Art Pepper – The Complete Art Pepper at Ronnie Scott’s Club, London June 1980 – Mole Jazz/PurePleasure Analogue PPANO 12 -180 gram audiophile vinyl – (7 LPs + illus. 12" booklet) *****:
(Art Pepper, alto sax and clarinet; Milcho Leviev, piano; Tony Dumas, bass; Carl Burnett, drums)
Fans of Art Pepper’s final years recordings have become both an elated and jaded group of jazz connoisseurs. I count myself among them. Every time we think the well has run dry, Art’s widow, Laurie – our savior – comes to the rescue. Through her label honoring Art (Widow’s Taste), we have experienced Pepper at his most passionate – a man racing life’s clock as he knew time was running out due to illnesses and burning the candle on both ends. We have reviewed the entire Unreleased Art series, wherein most of the recordings were made in Europe in the year prior to his death.
There had been rumors of a more complete issue of Pepper’s quartet recordings at Ronnie Scott’s club in London than the two LPs once issued by Mole Jazz, titled Blues for the Fisherman and True Blues. Due to Art’s contract with Galaxy, the two Mole Jazz issues were credited to pianist Milcho Leviev. Recorded on the last week of June 1980, the two records had eight extended compositions. They were recorded using “multi-microphones in a straight stereo mix without any noise reduction, limiting, compression or equalization on either the location recording or on the transfer of the original master tapes to the lacquers from which the final pressings are made.”
The Mole Jazz records were collectors items. Adding seventeen additional unissued tracks from June 27th and June 28th , Laurie has authorized the audiophile English vinyl reissue label PurePleasure to add their aural mastery in releasing seven records in this deluxe box set with a booklet -complete with Alun Morgan’s June 2010 commentary, and four transcribed 1979 and 1980 interviews that Art gave to Les Tompkins. Photocopies of the Mole Jazz liner notes are a plus as well as historical photos of the era.
Mastering genius Ray Staff, who often works with PurePleasure, again adds his touch with remastering that affords the listener the best reproduction possible with any live recording issues found on the original masters. There is a brief dropout on “Arthur’s Blues” on the right channel of the master tape due to a connection problem during the original recording.
Ronnie Scott’s in London is one of the oldest jazz clubs in the world, and Scott himself was an excellent tenor sax player who passed away in 1996 and continued to play until the early 90s. His jazz club is certainly the most famous small venue in Europe and a must stop for any jazz fan visiting England.
Pepper’s engagement at the club was actually the last full two weeks of June 1980. With Art was his trio that had accompanied him throughout much of the last few years of his life. The club was full most every night and you can sense Pepper’s excitement in his brief comments between many of the tracks in this set. (You may have to raise the volume to hear them…Ed.) Art was clearly inspired, and his playing, always passionate, reaches an even higher level on these recordings. Mole Jazz, a small but legendary record shop near the Kings Cross railway station, issued eight tracks on the two records, and these were their first discs issued. We now have seventeen additional tracks to relish.
As with Art’s playing at the end of his career, we have a mixture of ballads and burners. Four of the numbers are repeated on both nights but as always with Art, none of the repeated compositions are very similar. We are also treated to Art’s clarinet playing and that is a real treat since I find Pepper’s clarinet emoting to be a combination of blues, Dixieland style, and bop, all in a combination that is truly unique.
Highlights are numerous as each side has memorable moments. The quartet is rock solid. Leviev pushes and inspires Art. Their relationship was at times tempestuous but Milcho knew he had to provide inspiration to Pepper that brought out the best in his playing. You will find the use of tension increases followed by decreases in mood that take you on a roller coaster ride of emotions.
Some of my favorite numbers are in the blues readings. “Arthur’s Blues” on Record 2, Side 2 takes up the entire side with a twelve-bar blues. The classic, “I’ll Remember April” is done two times and each is a bittersweet experience knowing that Pepper was on his last lap playing out his heart. The same goes with hearing Art on clarinet doing Ellington’s “In a Mellotone.” Fans of Pepper’s inimitable bop playing will enjoy “Straight Life.” Coltrane’s influence on Pepper is heard on “The Trip.” I also dug Micho’s sensitive probing solo on this track spurred on by the cymbals of Carl Burnett.
From the Mole Jazz True Blues issue, “Goodbye”, written by Gordon Jenkins, on Record 7, helps bring Pepper’s visit to Ronnie Scott’s to a close. It brings us Pepper’s alto in a plaintive setting, calling out with a moaning gut call emotion that you can not ignore. Art played with his heart on his sleeve. He had few peers that could pour out their life experience in such a visceral way.
Once again (each time I think we are receiving a gift) we must thank Laurie Pepper for sharing his gift to the jazz world. We remain hopeful (and greedy) for more…
Side A – Blues for Blanche, Ophelia
Side B – Make a List Make a Wish
Side C – Ornithology, Red Car
Side D – Arthur’s Blues
Side E – Untitled #34, Song for Richard
Side F – Rhythm-A-Ning, Rita-San
Side G – What’s New, I’ll Remember April
Side H – True Blues, Ophelia
Side I – Make a List Make a Wish
Side J – Red Car
Side K – Straight Life, Y.I. Blues
Side L – The Trip, I’ll Remember April
Side M – Goodbye, In a Mellotone
Side N – Blues for the Fisherman
– Jeff Krow