Art Pepper Live At Fat Tuesday’s – Elemental Music 5990427, 70:40 ****:
(Art Pepper – alto sax; Milcho Leviev – piano; George Mraz – bass; Al Foster – drums)
Gary Giddens writing in Weather Bird, Jazz At The Dawn Of Its Second Century has the following to say about Art Pepper: “ After 16 years of silence due to incarceration and drug addition, one of the golden boys of 1950s LA came back in 1976,with a pressing need to be heard… as madly competitive altoist making up for lost years…” From that point until his death due to a stroke in 1982 at age 56, he pushed the limits of expression on his instrument which can be heard to delicious effect in this 1981 quartet recording Live At Fat Tuesday’s.
The Art Pepper of this session, is a much different player from the cool style that he, along with Lee Konitz and Paul Desmond inhabited in the mid-1950s (each of whom was subtly influenced by Lester Young) when he undertook the original Omegatape reel to reel recordings. Here he demonstrates a biting, blistering attack with John Coltrane-like pyrotechnics. The opening track is Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Thing” which, like many other jazz numbers, is based on the chord changes to George Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm. Whether Pepper felt he was on a short string, his playing throughout was filled with an intensity, which seemed to indicate that might be the case.
Apart from this Monk classic, the balance of the set was an eclectic mix of standards ranging from Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” and the Gordon Jenkins closing theme for the Benny Goodman band entitled “Goodbye”, and two Art Pepper originals “Make A List, Make a Wish” and “Red Car”. It is always interesting to speculate where and why this tape lay hidden for lo these many years, only to be resurrected at this time on CD. It is a valuable musical document, however one would have wished for a more balanced sound, more depth, and a less obtrusive bass. But assuming it was a bootleg recording, these are minor imperfections in an otherwise solid session.
With the rhythm section operating at full throttle, they laid a foundation for a series of extended explorations, not only by Pepper, but also they had plenty of room to roam and the experience to make it work. Despite a backstory that was filled with personal adversity, Art Pepper had an identifiable sound that while often edgy, nevertheless suggested an underlying fantasy.
TrackList: Rhythm-A-Thing; What Is This Thing Called Love?; Goodbye; Make A List,Make A Wish; Red Carf