Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Vol. 1 & 2
Art Pepper's widow, Laurie (his third and final wife), started the Widow's Taste label to give more of the saxophonist/clarinetist to his fans and to introduce him to those as yet uninitiated. Pepper passed away 26 years ago this month after what was arguably one of the rougher lives in jazz. The first two volumes of this new archival series, representing two performances from the last year of his life, speak to an apparent cache of fantastic material awaiting release.
Volume 1, a concert in Abashiri, Japan from late 1981, features one of the best, by his own admission, rhythm sections Pepper ever employed: pianist George Cables, bassist David Williams and drummer Carl Burnett. The performance brims with varying emotion and intensity, a particularly invigorating moment occurring as the band kicks into high gear on an airtight version of "Besame Mucho." However, the chief highlight, one among many, is undoubtedly the heartbreaking rendition of "Body and Soul," which also boasts one of Cables' beautiful solos: Few could make a ballad work like Art Pepper and "Mr. Beautiful" is with him on every gesture. The Japanese audience is more than exuberant as the quartet closes out the show with a spicy take on Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning." There is some minor cassette hiss and "Landscapes" is incomplete, but these are minor drawbacks to a major document.
Back on US soil for Volume 2, Pepper embarked on a tour in the spring of 1982 that culminated at Washington's Kennedy Center as part of the Kool Jazz Festival. This, his last concert, was taped by Voice of America days before his hospitalization and death, but one hears no trace of illness. The audience is even more involved than was the Japanese crowd as Pepper lopes through the silkily powerful "Ophelia." Roger Kellaway fills the piano chair admirably, even if his occasional forays into free jazz territory seem forced. His entrance on "When You're Smiling" is especially tasty as he backs Pepper on clarinet; the energy builds almost to breaking point, subsides and builds again, as effective on record as it must have been in the hall.
The patter that informs Pepper's later discs is abundant throughout the two volumes and he is charming rather than caustic. He dedicates "When You're Smiling" to Zoot Sims and though the ecstatic audience yells for more, it was not to be. Still, fans are lucky to have these vibrant recordings. The sound is never less than acceptable and usually very crisp and clear. If the first two volumes provide any indication of things to come, this series should be dynamite!
Tracks and Personnel
Unreleased Art, Vol. 1: The Complete Abashiri Concert (Nov. 22, 1981)
Tracks: Landscape; Besame Mucho; Red Car; Goodbye; Straight Life; Road Waltz; For Freddie (part 1); For Freddie; Body and Soul; Talk Rhythm-A-Ning; Blues Encore (inc.).
Personnel: Art Pepper: sax; George Cables: piano; David Williams: bass; Carl Burnett: drums.
Unreleased Art, Vol. 2: The Last Concert (May 30, 1982), Kool Jazz Festival
Tracks: Landscape; Talk; Ophelia; Talk; Mambo Koyama; Over the Rainbow; Talk; When You're Smiling.
Personnel: Art Pepper: sax; Roger Kellaway: piano; David Williams: bass; Carl Burnett: drums.