Art Pepper – Unreleased Art, Vol. VIII – Live at the Winery – Widow’s Taste Records APM 13001, 61:55 – Rec. 9/6/76 [11/5/13] ****:
(Art Pepper – alto sax; Smith Dobson – piano; Jim Nichols – bass; Brad Bilhorn – drums)
For the eighth in the welcome series of previously unissued, mostly private recordings of Art Pepper, Laurie Pepper has turned the clock back a bit. Most of the series issues have been from the year or two just prior to Art’s passing. This time however, we go back to 1976 and a soundboard recording done at the idyllic setting of the Paul Masson Winery in Saratoga, California.
Art was exploring jazz rock during this period of his “comeback” after his stay at Synanon that ended in 1972. He was based in Southern California but occasionally came up to the Bay Area and had a Northern California backing group that was noted for featuring pianist, Smith Dobson. Dobson was a jazz educator and first rate musician, who spent most of his time in the San Jose and Santa Cruz area. He was a first call pianist for national talent, and Art gives Dobson his props on a few occasions during intros during the concert recording. (Dobson tragically passed away in a car accident in 2001, while returning from a gig.)
Listening to this concert that features tunes that have been found on earlier Unreleased Art issues, we also get a chance to check out a few new Pepper compositions (“What Laurie Likes” and “Saratoga Blues.”). Dobson clearly inspires Pepper, and his piano talents are undeniable throughout the CD as he has several solos, and ably shares the spotlight with Art.
Art tears into “Caravan” in a real up-tempo version, driven by drummer Bilhorn’s prodding. Free expression with Middle Eastern motifs are explored. “Ophelia” has always been a favorite of mine for Art’s bluesy readings, and Pepper delivers again for the Saratoga revelers. The mellow vibe continues on “Here’s That Rainy Day” as Pepper’s incomparable lyrical side is shown. Few altoists, either before or since, can match Art, as he pours out his heart on a ballad. Dobson’s solo on this track so impressed Art that he pays tribute to Smith before introducing “What Laurie Likes.” It’s a rollicking tune with electric bass introduction. At over thirteen minutes the group stretches out. I bet a few glasses of vino were spilled here as the band’s cooking must have inspired the laid back crowd to get up and dance to this rock/blues shake down. “Straight Life” takes off from the git-go as Art blows with abandon. The afternoon ends with an impromptu improvisation blues titled “Saratoga Blues.”
It’s such a pleasure enjoying each Unreleased Art CD , and we can just hope that more issues continue to pop up to satisfy our craving for Pepper. Thanks again, Laurie….(Available through CD Baby and online)
TrackList: Caravan, Talk: Band Intros, Ophelia, Here’s That Rainy Day, Talk: About Smith Dobson and Intro to What Laurie Likes, What Laurie Likes, Straight Life, Saratoga Blues