Laurie Pepper, widow of alto saxophonist Art Pepper
, achieved a life milestone in her brilliantly liberating sequel to Straight LifeThe Story Of Art Pepper By Art And Laurie Pepper
(Da Capo Press, 1983), where she rhetorically asked:
"If Art hadn't had me there constantly assessing his mood, taking his aesthetic temperature, would he then have had to push his vision by himself? I think somebody else, another friend or lover, might have done it...But what matters here, to me in my story, is that it was me who paid attention and was listened to. I played an important part in this and other projects of undoubted value and knew it at the time and was thrilled and am proud now." Art: Why I Stuck with A Junkie Jazzman
(Art Pepper Music Corporation, 2014) is Laurie Pepper's proverbial "line in the sand" of Art Pepper's presently (in 2018) 36 year post-mortem period. It is the proper thing to consider when addressing the present Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. 10: Toronto
. It is now a foregone conclusion that Art Pepper would have never made the performance stage if not for Laurie Pepper. Beyond a doubt is the fact that these ten volumes of unreleased music would have never seen the light of day had she not championed their cause.
It is from Laurie Pepper's perspective and that of the Art Pepper's musical chronology that these recordings assume their importance. This June 16, 1977 Toronto concert represents Art Pepper purchasing real traction begun with his comeback recording Living Legend
(Contemporary, 1975), Pepper's first studio recording since 1960's Intensity
The intervening years had Pepper moldering in prisons, rehabs, odd jobs, kicking and scuffling around, finally meeting and wedding Laurie Miller, after which a confluence of spirits brought about a Phoenix-like rebirth, one that would not have happened save for the intervention of Laurie Pepper. Toronto was Art Pepper's first performance of his first extended tour leading his own band, a tour that would culminate in his triumphant Village Vanguard performances just weeks later.
The Art Pepper blowing out that ice-cold, dry martini tone on "Long Ago and Far Away" in 1960 was a decidedly different one performing the same song here 17 years later. "Ragged" is too strong a word, better applied to his searing performances at the Village Vanguard. "Fraying" might be a better word, but still not entirely true. In the years between Intensity
and this recording, it would be easy for critics to complain that the saxophonist abandoned his early, note-perfect style for something less disciplined. But this is not less disciplined. Less patient, perhaps, but this is impassioned music, a sweet foreshadowing of the beautifully corrosive creativity that would characterize Pepper's Vanguard recordings.
Part of the passion with which Pepper performs here was inspired by a giant ten years gone as of this recording. Pepper discovered and assimilated the frontier spirit of John Coltrane
, therein the eclipsing wall of notes and fast tempos. Pepper's phrasing became more compressed, more hurried, as if making up for lost time. Both versions of the Jerome Kern/Ira Gershwin classic are taken at a good clip, the newer performance being half-again faster than the 1960 performance. At about the 6-minute mark, Pepper does a full Coltrane, percolating up through the molten bebop of the piece, rendering the melody and counter-melodies incandescent. This is the triple point of bebop, post-bop, and reformed free jazz.
This 3-CD set is dominated by ballads: "Here's That Rainy Day," "What is This Thing Called Love," "The Summer Knows," "I'll Remember April." But it is a Pepper original that exists as the heartbeat of the recording. "Samba Mom Mom," a composition for Laurie Pepper, is to this Toronto recording, what "Make a Wish (Make as List)" was to Pepper's previously unreleased May 14, 1981 Croydon Concert (Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. III
, Widow's Taste, 2008). Both songs also illustrate the tight, swinging relationship between Pepper and his bassists (Gene Perla
here and Bob Magnusson
on the Croydon performances), who laid down the necessary sonic asphalt for Pepper to soar. George Mraz
would do the same at the Vanguard two weeks later.
Our hats are off to Laurie Pepper, bringing this imperfect performance to perfect realization.