Marty Paich and Art Pepper: Moanin' vs + Eleven

C. Michael Bailey By

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Marty Paich (1925-1995) was the West Coast Tadd Dameron. He had a perfect swing and be bop arranging temperament. Paich was a superb pianist and a better arranger, being called upon to orchestrate for Chet Baker, Ray Brown, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, and Art Pepper. It was with Art Pepper that Paich would forge a most creatively generous relationship, which would yield not one but two masterpieces in 1959.

Art Pepper (1925-1982) was the brilliant and beautiful alto saxophonist who recorded widely in the 1950s, '70s, and '80s while taking the better part of the 1960s off in drug rehabilitation and prison. During the better part of 1959, Pepper and Paich collaborated on a series of big band recordings that resulted in Art Pepper + Eleven Plays Modern Jazz Classics and The Marty Paich Big Band—Moanin'. Marty Paich was responsible for the arrangements for both sets of recordings and Art Pepper held down the alto saxophone chair on both sets. Both recordings employed many of the players making these recordings worth a comparison.

Moanin' is actually the assembly of two Marty Paich big band albums originally released on Warner Brothers, The Broadway Bit (WB1296, 1959/Discovery 844) and I Get a Boot Out of You (WB1349, 1959/Discovery 829, 1959). These both were combined and released on the current disc (Discovery 962, 1989). The former was recorded at a session in Los Angles in January and the latter also in Los Angles in June and July. Just for perspective, Art Pepper + Eleven Plays Modern Jazz Classics was recorded in three sessions on March 14th, March 28th, and May 12th. Thus, the famous + Eleven was conceived and committed to tape between the two sessions comprising Moanin'. The result is perfection.

However, Moanin' is not + Eleven. The two recordings and differ most greatly in repertoire. Moanin' is a collection of swing era tunes seasoned with some hard bop. + Eleven is a collection of compositions resulting from the heyday of the Be Bop era. The former is heavy on Duke Ellington, the latter on Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. The two discs have a very potent similarity in Paich's arrangements. Marty Paich approached his big band arrangements with a combination of Claude Thornhill (and, by proxy, Gil Evans) and Count Basie. Like the Thornhill band and Miles Davis' Nonet, Paich liked employing French horns with a saxophone army underneath. This affords a very plush sound that can still have a Basie riff bite when necessary.

Where + Eleven is equally Paich's and Pepper's, Moanin' is exclusively Paich's. He runs the show, part of the time from piano, at which is more than capable, but like Tadd Dameron, is self-effacing of his talent. He provides his best soloists a perfect environment for their talent. Therefore, Art Pepper, Jack Sheldon, and Bill Perkins are afforded ample solo space, with the backdrop appropriate to each of them. So, if this listener is looking for a continuation of + Eleven , he will and will not find it in Moanin'. But don't let that paradox stop you from seeking out this disc. Worrying about whether Moanin' or + Eleven is better is as silly fruitless as arguing which band is better Ellington or Basie. Both—Both are perfect.


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