Craft Recordings releases a re-mastered vinyl of a classic album by Art Pepper.
Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section – Contemporary Records (1957)/Craft Recordings CR00491 180-gram mono vinyl, Record Store Day Release [4/23/2022] 43:38 *****:
(Art Pepper – alto saxophone; Red Garland – piano; Paul Chambers – double bass; Philly Joe Jones – drums)
Art Pepper was a prominent figure in West Coast Jazz. His primary instrument was alto saxophone. Some critics hailed him as one of the greatest living altoist of his era. Pepper came to prominence as a teen with Benny Carter and the Stan Kenton Orchestra. As a sideman, he performed with Chet Baker, Hoagy Carmichael, Art Farmer, Johnny Griffin, Elvin Jones, Shelley Manne, Barney Kessel, Marty Paich and Buddy Rich. Pepper’s harrowing life story has been documented in various biographies. While he enjoyed a prolific career, he passed away at the age of 56.
One of the milestones of Pepper’s catalogue as a band leader is the 1957 release, Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section. As the legend goes, Pepper only found out he was recording with Miles Davis’ phenomenal session players (Red Garland/piano; Paul Chambers/double bass; and Philly Joe Jones/drums) on the morning of this studio date. Additionally, he and his instrument were in a fragile state. But in the annals of jazz lore, it became one of the great late 50’s jazz albums, successfully incorporating classic bebop and harmonious West Coast jazz. Craft Recordings has released a re-mastered 180-gram mono fidelity vinyl as part of the 2022 Record Store Day promotion. Side 1 kicks off with a finger-snapping medium swing version of Cole Porter’s beloved standard, “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”. At the outset, it is apparent that the quartet is not affected by external circumstances. They are inspired and in the pocket. Pepper’s is fluid and lyrical, especially on his extended solo. Garland follows with a jaunty, crisp run before turning it over to Chambers. Pepper returns and exchanges with some compelling Jones drum fills. Next up is a Pepper/Garland original composition, “Red’s Pepper Blues”. It is smoky and cool with a tight arrangement that features soulful alto lines and excellent inflection. Garland is up tempo and jubilant, while Chambers contributes a bowed double bass. Philly Joe Jones is mesmerizing, and there is a final section that displays nuanced syncopation. In a change of pace, the Van Heusen/Burke ballad “Imagination” exudes a gentle sway that is hypnotic. The rhythm section manages to sustain an innate pulse behind the melody and improvisation.
The ensemble reaches a different creative style on the three-minute cover of a Pepper/Chambers collaboration, “Waltz Me Blues”. The arrangement is more airy with Pepper, Garland and Chambers articulating their instrumental prowess, especially on a counterpoint between alto and piano. Again, Jones’ drumming is magnetic. With bebop ferocity, the group romps through a Pepper composition, “Straight Time”. His sax lead is crisp and punctuated. Garland percolates with sprightly right-hand notation and subtly changes the tempo, while Pepper re-engages with Jones’ drum fills. Another cover, “Jazz Me Blues” is a muscular, straight-ahead jam with a bouncy tempo and hard bop aesthetics. The chemistry of the quartet is palpable. Jones’ stellar drumming is at the core of the Afro-Cuban opus, “Tin Tin Deo”. Here, the agility and ability of Pepper and Garland to distill melodic essence and rhythmic integrity is exceptional. There are moments of dynamic translation and ethereal reticence. An extended polyrhythmic drum solo is terrific and leads into the juxtaposition of Pepper’s glowing tonality and Garland’s deft inflection. Another popular standard, “Star Eyes” is a display of internal coherence and inspired alto and piano runs. The selection of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Birk’s Works” is a fitting conclusion to this album. This “minor-key” blues number is deservedly among the great jazz standards. It is infused with a variety of feels and textures, at times emphatic and articulated with memorable vamps.
Craft Recordings has done an excellent job in re-mastering Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section to 180-gram vinyl. The source mono fidelity is captured with clarity and a balanced mix. The anecdotal liner notes by Lester Koenig are incisive and the 1957 technical details will be appreciated by jazz audiophiles. This pressing by Bernie Grudman (QRP) is pristine with no hisses or pops.
Side 1: You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To; Red Pepper Blues; Imagination; Waltz Me Blues; Straight Life
Side 2: Jazz Me Blues; Tin Tin Deo; Star Eyes; Birks’ Works.