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Art Pepper: The Art Pepper Quartet

C. Michael Bailey By

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Omnivore Records has struck up a dandy relationship with Laurie Pepper and the Art Pepper Estate, resulting in an impressive discography, that when coupled with Laurie Pepper's own Widow's Taste Records, has provided fans many hours of previously unreleased music. First released by the label was the 2015 Neon Art Series: Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3. These recordings were first released as neon-colored vinyl long players in 2012, taking advantage of the renewed interest in analogue vinyl and then as these compact discs.

Next, the label, through its magic, acquired the rights to re-release Pepper's recordings he had made as an ostensible "sideman" on Atlas Records. These sides were first released as Art Pepper: The Hollywood All-Stars Sessions (Galaxy Music Group, 2001). Omnivore bests this release with better re-mastering and previously unissued tracks on Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 1: Sonny Stitt, Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 2: Pete Jolly, Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 3: Lee Konitz, and Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 4: Bill Watrous all released in 2017.

Between West Coast Sessions!" Volumes 2 and 3, Omnivore sneaks in Pepper's lone Tampa Records' release The Art Pepper Quartet. Released in 1957, these sides were recorded November 26, 1956, when Pepper was tacitly associated with Contemporary records. Tampa Records was a small label run by Robert Scherman, who also recorded Marty Paich, Shorty Rogers, and Gerald Wiggins. The recording of what would eventually become The Art Pepper Quartet occurred between the sessions that would become the Russell Garcia Orchestra's Russell Garcia, Warne Marsh, Marty Paich, Billy Ussleton, John Towner, Med Flory -A Notable Exhibition By West Coast Jazz Artists -Modern Jazz Gallery (Kapp) and Art Pepper's ...The Way It Was (Contemporary). The year 1956 was a banner year for Pepper, containing recording sessions that would lead to The Route (Pacific Jazz, with Chet Baker), The Return of Art Pepper (Pacific Jazz), Early Art (Blue Note), and Modern Art (Blue Note).

The original LP featured seven selections, all Pepper originals, save for a boppish take on "I Surrender Dear" and suitably humid, south-of-the-border rendering of "Besame Mucho." Pepper fronted a trio lead by his frequent collaborator, pianist Russ Freeman, with whom Pepper had an obvious simpatico. The trio was rounded out by bassist Ben Tucker and drummer Gary Frommer. For Pepper's compositions, the saxophonist amply demonstrated his command of the blues on "Blues at Twilight" and bebop on the released and alternate takes of "Val's Pal." Pepper's playing had that Martini-cold tone of his early period and he never sounded better. Laurie Pepper, in her exceptional liner notes, describes the music on this recording, thusly:

"It's the physical embodiment of a precious moment, miraculously caught, when everything was perfect, all the circumstances: the band and music, the recording situation, but most importantly, Art's mental state. In my life with him, I think I've heard the music for Art's every mood, but never this one where he so simply soars, he sings. He is, in that moment, so uncharacteristically uncomplicated and so confident, more confident than he would be ever again."

In this respect, I believe that, in the Pepper oeuvre, The Art Pepper Quartet bests his more famous Meets The Rhythm Section (Contemporary, 1957). The latter possesses too much mythical baggage to reflect an unadorned, relaxed Art Pepper. As Laurie Pepper concluded, "He recorded other albums during this short span, but those were more demanding, had more sidemen, more arrangements. This one must have felt so effortless..." Pepper always did excel in a quartet format.

One final note on the liner notes. Laurie Pepper has developed into a writer whose narrative can be as effortlessly read as her late husband's playing on this recording. She is every bit as much a part of this American story of rise, fall, and redemption as the musician himself. Her contribution must me acknowledged.

Track Listing: Art’s Opus; I Surrender Dear; Diane; Pepper Pot; Besame Mucho; Blues at Twilight; Val’s Pal; Pepper Pot (alternate); Blues at Twilight (alternate); Val’s Pal (Take 1); Val’s Pal (take 2,3,4); Val’s Pal (Takes 5,6).

Personnel: Art Pepper: alto saxophone; Russ Freeman: piano; Ben Tucker: bass; Gary Frommer: drums.

Title: The Art Pepper Quartet | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Omnivore Recordings


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