Art Pepper + Eleven – “Modern Jazz Classics” – Craft Recordings

by | Jun 6, 2022 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Craft Recordings releases a re-mastered vinyl of a groundbreaking Art Pepper big band album.

Art Pepper + Eleven – “Modern Jazz Classics” – Contemporary Records (1959)/Craft Recordings (2022) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 53:55 ****1/2:

(Art Pepper – alto saxophone, clarinet; Pete Candle – trumpet; Jack Sheldon – trumpet; Dick Nash – trombone; Bob Enevoldsen – tenor saxophone, valve trombone; Vince De Rosa – French horn; Herb Geller – alto saxophone; Bill Perkins – tenor saxophone; Med Flory – baritone saxophone; Russ Freeman – piano; Joe Mondragon – double bass; Mel Lewis  – drums; Al Porcino – trumpet; Bud Shank – alto saxophone; Charlie Kennedy – alto saxophone; Richie Kamuca – tenor saxophone; Marty Paich – arrangements)

The personal struggles of altoist Art Pepper have been chronicled extensively. He was a disciple of bebop icon Charlie Parker, but not derivative. Like many fellow jazz artists, Pepper drew inspiration from the frenetic intensity of Bird, but forged his own blend of musical styles. While his recording career was limited, he managed to become one of the mist respected alto saxophonists of his era. Craft Recordings has released a 180-gram re-mastered vinyl of a unique 1959 Contemporary Records session. Art Pepper + Eleven is an uplifting tour-de-force, showcasing Pepper in a big band format. This example of a tightly arranged album was part of the late 50’s jazz scene. On this record, Pepper and arranger-extraordinaire Marty Paich selected modern compositions from contemporary jazz luminaries including Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Giuffrie, Gerry Mulligan, Charlie Parker, Horace Silver and Sonny Rollins. This novel approach and the ensemble’s impeccable performance made this album a classic.

Art Pepper + Eleven, with VinylSide 1 opens with a brisk medium-swing rendition of “Move”. After a concise opening, Pepper  glides on his smooth alto as the band falls into lockstep. There are occasional subtle horn counterpoints and contributions on trumpet (Jack Sheldon) and trombone (Bob Enevoldsen). All of the arrangements (a generous 12 tracks) are delivered cohesively, with none longer than 4:15. A full-bodied syncopated resonance permeates Dizzy Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High”. After a muted trumpet, Pepper shines on a fluid, melodic run. Again, it is more subdued than the original translation by Dizzy and Bird. Keeping the proceedings lively, Horace Silver’s “Opus De Funk” showcases a highly layered texture of instruments, as Pepper wails on his solos. There have been many covers of the Thelonious Monk jazz standard, “‘Round Midnight”. Pepper’s version distills the inherent moodiness and late night melancholy off the ballad. Small touches like Russ Freeman’s bluesy piano licks and a mid-song tempo shift are compelling. The group kicks back into swing mode with the spirited “Four Brothers” (Jimmy Giuffre). It percolates and the horn flourishes are emphatic. Pepper embraces his bebop roots again in the Gillespie/Parker opus, “Shawnuff”. There are both trumpet and saxophone accents and a well-timed drum fill by Mel Lewis. The group articulates a variety of exotic motifs.

Side 2 extends the big band celebration with a jaunty number (“Bernie’s Tune”) made famous by the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. It has great tempo, punctuated counterpoint and swirling orchestration. Speaking of Mulligan, his “Walkin’ Shoes” begins with a skipping bass and includes French horn (Vince DeRosa) two trumpets (Pete Candoli, Jack Sheldon) and an additional trio of saxophones (Bill Perkins/tenor; Herb Geller/alto and Med Flory/baritone). It has a traditional jazz feel and a sparkling arrangement. In yet another Dizzy Gillespie number (“Anthropology”), Pepper switches to clarinet that gives a  crisper tonality to the jam. Again, Paich’s modulation and bluesy finish are great. In an album full of highlights, Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin” (of course, Nigeria spelled backward) is complex large ensemble jazz at its finest. The interaction between the soloists and band is precise and colorful. This was a staple of Miles Davis. Davis’ inspiration is furthered examined on “Walkin’”. This version has a low down, nasty vibe with muscular vamps enveloping the saxophone lines. Russ Freeman’s cool piano riffs are groove-infused and the unison ending is flawless. The finale (Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee”) is a high-octane jam with Pepper stretching out on alto. It is a very effective implementation of big band aesthetics with more structure. 

Craft Recordings has done a superior job in re-mastering Art Pepper + Eleven to 180-gram vinyl. The stereo separation is excellent and the overall mix is balanced. In mostly three-minute performances, this all-star group of musicians effectively captures the agility of larger jazz bands with streamlined arrangements. The liner notes by Nat Hentoff are incisive and revelatory with fastidious detail. This would be a valuable addition to any jazz library.  

Side 1:
Groovin’ High
Opus De Funk
‘Round Midnight
Four Brothers

Side 2:
Bernie’s Tune
Walkin’ Shoes
Donna Lee

—Robbie Gerson


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Album Cover for Art Pepper + 11, Eleven



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