Joy Road Sampler, From the Complete Works of Pepper Adams – Selections from Volumes 1-5 – Motema Records MTM 97, 59:42 ***** (Available as 2 CDs, Digital Box Set, and annotated discography book):
(Artists include Jeremy Kahn Trio (Vol. 1); Kevin Bales Quartet (Vol. 2); Frank Basile Septet (Vol. 3); Jeremy Kahn Quartet (Vol. 4); I Carry Your Heart: Alexis Cole Sings Pepper Adams Music Paired with Lyrics – Vol. 5))
I remember attending the Detroit Jazz Festival over the Labor Day weekend of 2010, and hearing the buzz about an upcoming Pepper Adams project that jazz historian Gary Carner had been working on for years. It was to include Pepper Adams’ compositions played by placing Pepper’s compositions in different settings. When this massive and exhaustive project was completed, Chicago pianist Jeremy Kahn had recorded Vol. 1 in a trio format, while Atlanta’s pianist Kevin Bales formed a quartet featuring guitarist Barry Greene for Vol. 2. New York bari sax man, Frank Basile, has a sextet for Vol. 3, and Jeremy Kahn is used again with his trio, and special guest baritone sax player supreme, Gary Smulyan, for Vol. 4. Smulyan’s timbre on the baritone comes closest to that of Pepper Adams, as Gary has the same lower register “growl” that rivals Adam’s throaty tone.
Vol. 5 of the Joy Road project is a CD featuring vocalist Alexis Cole documenting the first-ever versions of Adams’ music, paired with lyrics penned by poet, Barry Wallenstein.
(During the Saturday afternoon session of the 2010 Detroit Festival there was a roundtable discussion with Barry Harris and Gary Smulyan extolling the talents of Pepper. Adams was nicknamed “The Knife” for his slashing and chopping technique. Pepper recorded well over 20 albums as a leader and was the baritone soloist with many big bands including Maynard Ferguson, and Stan Kenton, but was most well-known as the featured soloist for the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Big Band for over ten years. On Saturday night at the Detroit Jazz Festival in 2010, a highlight was the set, “Hot Pepper” which featured Smulyan and Barry Harris. What was so memorable was the love expressed by musicians for Pepper Adams, who passed away in 1986.)
The Joy Road Sampler (only the sampler and the Alexis Cole vocal tribute are available on CD, while the other volumes present 43 compositions in a four volume digital download), provides a nice “taste” of the Joy Road project. It opens with a “Enchilada Baby,” a jaunty tune with a Latin flavor and “hot sauce” provided by Smulyan, and vigorous drumming by George Fludas. “Doctor Deep” from 1982 is presented as a trio, and per Carner’s liner notes has been re-harmonized by Jeremy Kahn to have the feeling of a McCoy Tyner piano style of the late 60s and early 70s.
One of my favorite Adams’ songs, “Julian” (dedicated to Cannonball Adderley) is a pretty ballad that Adams recorded just a few days after Adderley’s passing. Smulyan does his usual fine job channeling Pepper.
“Binary” done by Frank Basile’s sextet, has the benefit of fleshing out this blues by the addition of Joe Magnarelli on trumpet and John Mosca on trombone. It was originally recorded on Pepper’s last recording, The Adams Effect, in 1985. “Claudette’s Way” was written by Pepper in 1978, as a waltz dedicated to his wife.
Other special tracks on the sampler include “Ephemera,” which Pepper felt was his greatest composition. It was written for a trio, and featured back in the 70s, the remarkable rhythm section of Roland Hanna, George Mraz, and Mel Lewis. “Bossallegro” is a samba that Pepper wrote for his LP, The Master back in 1980. (Per producer Carner, Pepper was also known as The Master, a name given by Milt Hinton, again a testament to how other jazz musicians felt about Adams.)
As a bonus, the sampler ends with “I Carry Your Heart” the title track of the Alexis Cole vocal CD that features seven Adams’ ballads with newly added lyrics added by poet, Barry Wallerstein. The title of this ballad was taken from an E.E. Cummings poem, “I Carry Your Heart With Me,” which was read at Pepper’s wedding on Valentine’s Day, in 1976.
The Joy Road project is obviously a labor of the love for Pepper Adams by Gary Carner. It deserves consideration for a Grammy award for best jazz box set. For fans of the baritone master Pepper Adams, if you can’t get the entire project through Motema Records, the sampler will give you a feel for the compositional talents of Mr. Adams.
TrackList: Enchilada Baby Doctor Deep, Julian, Binary, Claudette’s Way, Muezzin’, In Love With Night, Ephemera, Bossallegro, Joy Road, I Carry Your Heart
Pure Pleasure Records releases a re-mastered live vinyl of a great tenor saxophonist.