Art Pepper + Eleven: Modern Jazz Classics (2002)
Due to lengthy stints in drug rehab and jail, it is a remarkable feat that Art Pepper managed to put out any records at all. However, the few that he did put out were often exceptional. In his early days Pepper had spent time as a successful soloist in Stan Kenton’s band, and Marty Paich conceived of the idea of featuring him as the main (and almost only) soloist in front of an eleven-man ensemble. This was hardly a risk or even a novelty; big bands were fairly common on the West Coast during this time and many of the players were undoubtedly experienced in working within a larger group. However, instead of the usual well-worn standards that were the mainstay of West Coast swingers, Paich fashioned charts from relatively new compositions by jazz artists such as Monk, Gillespie, and Mulligan. All of these songs, generally more associated with smaller units, are inventively arranged for the big band format. Paich balances peppy horn riffs with open spaces that allow Pepper room to soar. Pepper was one of the few Parker-inspired disciples who managed to sound nothing like him, soloing with more crispness and precision than Bird, yet retaining the keen sense of melodic invention. His jumpy phrasing and pinpoint rhythm are on display on the fast tunes (some taken at a dizzying pace), while on ballads he allows lines to gently unfold over the changes like an opening cocoon. While Jack Sheldon gets a few tasty solos, it’s clear that Pepper is the main attraction, and he makes his presence known. Modern Jazz Classics is an aptly titled record that still sounds fresh today, now in improved 20-bit sound. An essential purchase.
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Track Listing: 1. Move 2. Groovin High 3. Opus de Funk 4. 'Round Midnight 5. Four Brothers 6. Shaw 'Nuff 7. Bernie's Tune 8. Walkin' Shoes 9. Anthropology 10. Airegin 11. Walkin' 12. Donna Lee 13. Walkin' (alt. take) 14. Walkin' (alt. take) 15. Donna Lee (alt. take).
Personnel: Art Pepper-alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet; with Pete Candoli, Vince de Rosa, Bob Enevoldsen, Med Flory, Russ Freeman, Herb Geller, Richie Kamuca, Charlie Kennedy, Mel Lewis, Joe Mondragon, Dick Nash, Bill Perkins, Al Porcino, Bud Shank, Jack Sheldon.