'Unreleased Art Pepper Volume Eleven: Atlanta' To Be Released Feb. 19 On Widow's Taste Records


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On a 1980 tour that he undertook with his working quartet, Art Pepper spent the evening of May 17 electrifying the audience at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta. The tour was a quickie affair—his wife and manager, Laurie, barely even noted it on her calendar. She did roll tape, however, and for her efforts, posterity can enjoy his thrilling performance with the band on the double-disc Unreleased Art Pepper Volume Eleven: Atlanta, set for a February 19 release on Laurie Pepper’s Widow’s Taste label.

Art was at the cusp of what would be the last of many career comebacks that spring. (He died in July 1982.) This one was built on the foundation of Straight Life, his seminal memoir (written with Laurie), which had hit shelves in December 1979. Its harrowing, honest portrayal of Art’s bouts with addiction and incarceration (“It tells all,” he promises the Atlanta audience in a plug for the book) had achieved rave reviews and impressive sales. “Art’s career and fame were suddenly greater than ever before,” notes Laurie in the CD’s liner notes. “Internationally. And he was able to tour with his own band for the first time in his life.”

Yet before the summer and fall triumphs in Europe and Japan (heard on Unreleased Art volumes VI and VII, respectively), before the majesty of the beloved Winter Moon session in September, there was this small, ad hoc tour through Boston, Houston, and Atlanta in April and May. Laurie was accompanying Art as his road manager, accountant, agent, band boss, and general factotum: “the jobs he didn’t want.” To those tasks, the saxophonist added a new one: He asked Laurie to buy a portable tape deck and microphone and start recording his performances.

To that request, and to Laurie’s determination to make him happy, we owe the hair-raising document that now comes before us. From the panache of “Blues for Blanche” and propulsion of “Mambo Koyama” to the rush of “Straight Life” and masterful balance of restraint and relish on “Song for Richard,” it’s clear that Art’s adventures and misadventures hadn’t depleted his artistry a bit—if anything, it added a new sense of urgency and purpose. The audience’s rapturous reception of his every tune confirms this.

Then again, his bandmates were earning their share of the rapture too. Brilliant musicians thrive in the company of their peers; Art may have been their better in terms of name recognition, but in terms of musicianship pianist Milcho Leviev, bassist Bob Magnusson, and drummer Carl Burnett more than hold their own. All four players’ skills and mutual respect come into focus on the second set’s opening blues “Untitled #34,” with Magnusson’s tour-de-force bass solo followed by a cutthroat three-way battle between Pepper, Leviev, and Burnett. Though we can’t hear it happening, we can safely assume that the band rattled the windows in the place.

The lack of window-rattling evidence is not due to any shortcomings in the sound. Laurie’s equipment was remarkably sharp in capturing all the sonic nuances in Art and the band’s music; recording engineer Wayne Peet breathes new life into them with his painstaking mastering.

Art’s banter between the songs is mumbly—more a defect of the saxophonist than of the audio—but it also adds scope and dimension to both artist and art. “I’ve retained more onstage talk on this album than on any other I’ve released,” Laurie Pepper muses in her notes, “because I find it funny and revealing.” Coming in the wake of the Straight Life book, as this concert did, it’s only fitting that Laurie allows Art to tell his own story here.

Atlanta is a worthy addition to the items in the Unreleased Art Pepper series. All have gotten rave reviews from well-known critics. They are:

  • Volume I, Abashiri (2-CD set)
  • Volume II, Last Concert: Kennedy Center
  • Volume III, Croydon (2-CD set)
  • Volume IV, The Art History Project (3-CD set)
  • Volume V, Stuttgart (2-CD set)
  • Volume VI, Blues for the Fisherman: Live at Ronnie Scott’s (4-CD set)
  • Volume VII, Sankei Hall, Osaka (2-CD set)
  • Volume VIII, Live at the Winery
  • Volume IX, Art Pepper & Warne Marsh
  • Volume X, Toronto (3-CD set)
And all (although Volume IV is available for download only) are available at both Amazon and Bandcamp. Laurie says she’ll keep releasing yearly miracles as long as she keeps finding them. She says there are still plenty in her closets.

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