(Art Pepper, alto sax; George Cables, piano; David Williams, bass; Carl Burnett, drums)
Art Pepper’s widow, Laurie, is single handedly keeping his legacy alive. Just when Pepper’s fans have felt that there were no more unreleased sessions, and we would have to be satisfied with the significant Pepper catalog of brilliant and varied music that Art gave to the jazz world during his tumultuous life, Laurie Pepper has given us two special treats from the last year of Art’s life. They are live music recorded during a Japanese tour in Nov. 1981 and later Art’s last concert (given just sixteen days before his death) on May 30th, 1982 at the Kool Jazz Festival in Washington D.C. There are even more unreleased sessions promised by Laurie Pepper to be released in the future from earlier periods in Art’s life. She is also been painstakingly working on movie projects on a shoestring budget. The jazz community owes her a debt of gratitude which can only partially be repaid with the purchase of these 2 CD releases on her label dedicated to Art, Widow’s Taste.
Art was trying to make up for lost time during the last seven years of his life. Though in failing health, he was on a mission to play and record as much as possible, seemingly knowing that his time with us was limited. With his wife helping take care of the business side of setting up gigs, Art was free to blow to his heart’s content. Unreleased Art, Vol. 1, was recorded in Japan, where Art was revered as a jazz superstar. He was backed with his last quartet of Cables, Williams, and Burnett. Cables was reportedly Pepper’s favorite piano player. Though his tour of Japan was supported by mediocre soundmen, the group latched onto a young Japanese soundman, who would keep the sound levels at their proper levels, and though the sound of these two CDs is sometimes a bit primitive by today’s standards – hooking up a cassette recorder to the sound board – at least we have somewhat decent sound to appreciate the passion that Pepper brought to this concert in front of a wildly appreciative audience. There are minor flubs – a break in “For Freddie” when the tape had to be turned over, and tape hiss that would be unacceptable today – But the historical significance for Pepper completists makes these issues largely irrelevant as it’s the music and Pepper’s playing that is a treat 25 years after his passing.
Disc 1 opens with Landscape, which begins mid song with Cables on a furious solo supported by Williams’ bass. At a bit over 2 minutes into the track, Pepper steps in with a searching solo both bluesy and explorative. It’s just a hint of the passion that Art brings to this evening’s performance. Over three minutes later, Williams gets solo time with some passion of his own, backed by Cables’ comping. Burnett has his own solo and Art and George share time during the rest of the nearly eleven minute track. Next is the standard, Besame Mucho, which has a Coltrane feel and Cables fits the bill of McCoy Tyner in his accompaniment to Pepper. Red Car follows and changes the mood to a soul jazz feeling a la Cannonball Adderley, and it is welcome respite. Gordon Jenkins’ Goodbye follows and we are back into lyrical Pepper territory. Art could always pour much passion into a ballad and that is so evident here. It’s playing from the heart that few alto players could match. For me, it’s my favorite track from disc one and George Cables’ solo adds his magic with an extended blues run. 10:37 of bliss!
Closing the first disc is Straight Life, the title of Art’s autobiography (a must-read) – and Carl Burnett is featured here along with some frenzied avant blowing by Art.
Disc two opens with Road Waltz, a very soulful track with more Pepper passion. For Freddie-in two parts complete with flub-follows and one is left to guess which “Freddie” this track was dedicated. Worth the price of the entire 2 CD set is Body and Soul and Art exclaims at song’s end, “that was one of the nicest things that I think I’ve played in my life.’ No argument, here!
Rhythm-A-Ning is given the Pepper treatment and the Abashiri audience goes wild, not typical of the stereotypical Japanese respectful jazz audience. They had to know that Art was pouring out his heart for them. That is evidenced by a prolonged encore request that Art meets with a Blues Encore.
Unreleased Art, Vol. 1 is a required purchase for Pepper fans who want to relish Art’s devotion to his craft all the way to the end of his life. His last concert – reviewed below- is the final chapter in that journey. Bless you, Laurie, with providing us with these treasures!
Tracklist: Disc One- Landscape, Besame Mucho, Red Car, Goodbye, Straight Life
Disc Two: Road Waltz, For Freddie, Body and Soul, Talking, Rhythm-A-Ning, Blues Encore
…and Art’s very last concert – brought to us 25 years later
Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. II – The Last Concert of 5/30/82 – Widow’s Taste APMC 07001, 57:55 ****:
(Art Pepper, alto sax, clarinet; Roger Kellaway, piano; David Williams, bass; Carl Burnett, drums)
As part of Laurie Pepper’s Herculean effort to bring out unreleased Art Pepper material, for Vol. 2 of his releases she has gone all out and released Art’s Final Concert, recorded just sixteen days before his death. His fight-to-the-end attitude can be felt and the presence of replacement pianist Roger Kellaway, who took the place of George Cables, brings even more interest to this issue. Cables had recently left Pepper’s employ to serve as Sarah Vaughan’s musical director. Art had initial misgivings about using Kellaway and Laurie lays out some initial problems with Kellaway’s playing in an earlier concert date, but those problems, thank goodness, were ironed out before this final concert was performed. As evidenced by Art’s passing so soon after this May, 1982 recording, his health was rapidly fading, but you would never know it by his performance that night. It was the sign of the ultimate jazz professional, fighting to the end, as Laurie points out in the introduction of her liner notes.
Recorded by the Voice of America at the Kool Jazz Festival in Washington, D.C., the near hour-long concert begins with Landscape as did Unreleased Art, Vol. 1. This version is more focused and drummer driven than on Vol. 1. Art is blowing freely and taking the song into many chord changes. Bassist Williams also has a strong solo as he did in the Japan tour six months earlier. Following this barnburner, Art has the first of three “talks” on this CD issue.
Ophelia brings Pepper back to his lyrical roots and it is very soulful with a strong swing feel, with start/stop phrasing. Mambo Koyama, written in Japan, but with a Latin flair, is next and veers off in several directions from lyrical to edgy and frenetic. Over the Rainbow is taken solo with Art honking on the alto before stating the familiar theme. It’s a passionate reading but not taken in the typical bluesy fashion that Pepper would probably have given it in the 50s. After another talk with the audience, Art concludes the concert with a dedication to Zoot Sims, a clarinet read of When You’re Smiling. You will too, knowing that you‚ve had the privilege to listen to the final concert of the master, Art Pepper.
I’m eagerly awaiting what surprises Laurie Pepper has for us in Vol. 3 of Unreleased Art. Don’t make us wait too long, Laurie! We’ve opened two Art Pepper Christmas presents and our appetite for more Art is now whetted.
TrackList: Landscape, Talk #1, Ophelia, Talk #2, Mambo Koyama, Over the Rainbow, Talk #3, When You’re Smiling
– Jeff Krow