Art Pepper: The Art History Project / Unreleased Art, Vol. IV – Widow’s Taste APM 09001 – 3 CDs: Disc 1: 68:53, Disc 2: 42:35, Disc 3: 69:15 ****1/2 [Avail. CD Baby]:
(Art Pepper, alto sax – playing with various artists over 31 year period (1951-1982): incl. the Stan Kenton Innovations Orchestra, Buddy Rich Big Band; with pianists – Carl Perkins, Russ Freeman, Hampton Hawes, Ronnie Ball, Claude Williamson, Frank Strazzeri, Milcho Leviev, Smith Dobson, Stanley Cowell – Horns – Jack Sheldon, Warne Marsh –bassists include: Leroy Vinnegar, Ben Tucker, Joe Mondragon, Hersh Hamel, Bob Magnusson, George Mraz – Drummers include: Shelley Manne, Chuck Flores, Larry Bunker, Carl Burnett, Ben Riley)
We’ve had the pleasure of reviewing the prior three issues of unreleased Art Pepper material researched and annotated by Art’s widow, Laurie. The prior issues were from the end of Art’s career, when he was in a mad rush to outrun the grim reaper. Art knew the end was near yet his playing and passion consumed his whole being. Largely recorded overseas – Japan and England, along with his career closing concert in Washington D.C in 1982, Art was still in prime form and his passionate playing had a gut-wrenching urgency that was truly gripping.
With Vol. 4 Laurie Pepper has gone for the whole enchilada – a complete introduction to Art’s entire career, from the Kenton band to “West Coast style” cool jazz in Disc 1 (Pure Art); to mid-period Pepper (post-San Quentin) when Coltrane’s influence permeated Art’s playing and an angrier aggressive mood was present on Hard Art, with Disc 2. We then return to late period Art Pepper with Disc 3 and Consummate Art, which has some unreleased surprises.
The self-titled Art Pepper from the Stan Kenton Innovations Band opens Disc 1. It swings hard and Art’s solo matches the advanced big band rhythms this Kenton band had. Seven of the 17 tracks on Disc 1 come from Modern Art. Five come from Surf Ride. No unreleased tracks are found on Disc 1. Wayne Peet has done another nice job remastering this material, however. I just love Patricia, which Art wrote for his daughter – it is a beautiful ballad.
Disc 2 ups the ante with six out of seven tracks previously unreleased. Just after his release from San Quentin in 1964, Art put a band together and performed on TV and in clubs. Contemporary’s Les Koenig, had no interest in Art’s post-prison harder edge material, and though allowing some recording had no interest in its release. The recording quality is not up to par, but Art completists will be fascinated with the in-your-face playing Art brings to the six unreleased tracks that feature pianist Frank Strazzeri, Hersh Hamel on bass and Bill Goodwin on drums. Coltrane’s influence is present, and Strazzeri’s bop playing is a nice counterpoint to Art’s forays. That Crazy Blues takes off with squeaks and squawks and Hamel and Goodwin keep pace admirably, with especially Hamel acquitting himself admirably. The Rich Big Band does a unique read on Chelsea Bridge to close out Disc 2 and Pepper is back with more sensual playing from a re-recording that Rich did letting Art blow hard. We begin to get back to Art’s passionate playing that consumed his later years. Chelsea Bridge got a big gale wind from this arrangement!
Disc 3 may be the most interesting disc as it provides post-Synanon 1975-1982, the closing stages of Art’s career and life when he poured his passion into his playing baring his soul. All the tracks here are unreleased or had very limited exposure to the public. Ranging from venues from Japan to Paris, with Half Moon Bay’s iconic Bach Dynamite and Dancing Society, and rounding out with two live tracks from New York’s Fat Tuesday. We also have two songs from the Hollywood Sessions from 1980 that have had more exposure in the last ten years from a box set. Most of these closing seven tracks allow Art to stretch out where on their tracks together Milcho Leviev pushed Art, often hogging the proceedings to Art’s chagrin. The great Stanley Cowell, a more sympathetic accompanist is featured on two songs given extended readings, Landscape and Mambo Koyama. The rhythm section here is about as top notch as New York provided at the time – Cowell, George Mraz, and Ben Riley. Laurie feels they played too fast for the ballads and mildly up-tempo numbers but to my ears, especially on Landscape, they sound mighty fine. A return to the West Coast sound demanded by Art’s rabid Japanese fans is provided on Angel Wings and Historia de un Mor, where good friend (and wild man, still with us) Jack Sheldon provides a good foil for Art. Historia is especially moving.
Every time I think the well has run dry with new Art Pepper material, Laurie Pepper finds new hidden treasures. As a companion to Art’s autobiography, Straight Life, The Art History Project provides a well rounded retrospective into the genius that was Art Pepper.May Laurie Pepper continue to surprise and please us with more Unreleased Art. For us Art Pepper completists, the more the merrier. Art Pepper lives on….
– Jeff Krow