Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Vol. 5: Stuttgart May 25, 1981 (2010)
Recorded during a European tour by Pepper's "comeback quartet" with drummer Carl Burnett, bassist Bob Magnusson and pianist Milcho Leviev, Unreleased Art Vol. 5: Stuttgart May 25, 1981 is a genuine labor of love: Not only the performers' love of music but also the devotion of this alto saxophonist's fans, who sent their own recordings of this date to Pepper's widow, Laurie, who turned them over to producer Wayne Peet for remastering and sequencing into this two-disc set.
The leader aside, Pepper's support trio is one hell of a band; led by Leviev's sympathetic piano and Magnusson's sensitive bass, they play with all the intuitive communication of the great pianist Bill Evans' trios. Leviev unravels the melodic threads of the opening "True Blues" like he's untying a musical knot, then steps aside for the bassist's expressive soliloquy. Piano and bass interludes in "Over the Rainbow" are just as lovely, and their undercarriage to "Yours is My Heart Alone" floats like a soft Brazilian breeze.
But don't put the leader aside. Pepper demonstrates remarkable ability to exercise his alto sax in many different styles and sounds (not to mention his spotlight on clarinet, Al Jolson's "Avalon," which he pours out as crisp and dry as a Benny Goodman martini). "Straight Life," Pepper's most recognized tune (and the title of his compelling autobiography), sets up a modern jazz steeplechase and demonstrates Sonny Rollins' gravitational pull on Pepper, whose solo emerges from fragments of phrases that he geometrically builds into larger lines and shapes. Pepper ends this set with "Cherokee," one of his favorite workouts and concert closers. At first, he lightly glides as if ice skating on the rhythm, but then his alto grows more and more fractured, strafing the rhythm with scalding staccato runs, the consuming conceptual fires of Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman.
Pepper and Leviev aim this 24-minute version of Pepper's "Make a List (Make a Wish" toward a completely different destination, the classic soul-jazz that saxophonist Eddie Harris recorded with pianist Les McCann. Leviev digs up from his lower register a simple but potent piano groove that sounds like both dirty and gospel blues, slamming down piano behind Pepper's freewheeling alto like a throaty beer chaser.
Track Listing: CD1: True Blues; Yours is My Heart Alone; Landscape; Patricia; For Freddie. CD2: Straight Life; Avalon; Make a List (Make a Wish); Over the Rainbow; Cherokee.
Personnel: Art Pepper: alto saxophone, clarinet; Milcho Leviev: piano; Bob Magnusson: bass; Carl Burnett: drums.
Record Label: Widow's Taste