When any previously unheard Art Pepper is released, the event bears a bit of context. Laurie Pepper's Volume 9 addition to her Unreleased Art
series is the 3-CD box Art Pepper & Warne Marsh at Donte's April 26, 1974
. It contains music from late in Pepper's fallow period between the releases of Intensity
(Contemporary, 1960) and his comeback period inaugurated by the release of Art Pepper: Living Legend
(Contemporary, 1975). I mark the period by Pepper's two studio recordings of the period because they provide the perimeter for when Pepper was not in prison for his heroin addiction.
During this period, Pepper stacked time in 196061, 196164, and 196465, the latter two incarcerations being spent in San Quentin, where Pepper played in bands with, among other notable jazz musicians, vocalist Ed Reed
, trumpeter Dupree Bolton
, alto saxophonist Frank Morgan
, and pianist Jimmy Bunn. An unenlightened time, to be sure, but a critical incubator period for Pepper between his martini-dry early years and his molten and corrosive late-career comeback.
This 15-year "fallow" period was not without Pepper recordings, studio or live. Pepper appears sporadically in the studio on Helyne Stewart Love Moods
(Contemporary, 1961); Frankie Randall A Swingin' Touch
(RCA, 1964); The Buddy Rich Big Band Mercy, Mercy
(Pacific Jazz, 1968); and the Mike Vax Orchestra Evil Eyes
(Artco, 1974). Several live recordings have surfaced from the period, released on Fresh Sound, where we can readily hear Pepper orbiting John Coltrane: Art Pepper Quartet '64 in San Francisco
(1964) and Art Pepper Quintet Live at Donte's, Vols. 1 & 2
Between these 1968 recordings at the LA jazz club Donte's and the present performance by Pepper and tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh
, Pepper's career trajectory slope was decidedly positive and accelerating. Living Legend
would be recorded just 16 months after Pepper's appearance with Marsh, an appearance that was not intended as Pepper had been appearing monthly with trumpeter Jack Sheldon
at the time. On this particular date, Sheldon proved unavailable and Pepper was once again united with his most simpatico and diametrically opposed, the densely cerebral Warne Marsh.
Famously, Pepper and Marsh had recorded together nearly 20 years previously as evidenced on Art Pepper with Warne Marsh
(Contemporary, 1956). It is startling to note the two very different Art Peppers appearing on these to widely separated recordings. The Contemporary set has the pre-prison/comeback Pepper, playing his coolest cool jazz: dry, often vibratoless tone, heroin-chic, dripping with sex and honey. The April '74 performance finds Pepper working out of his orbit with John Coltrane, taking his experiences with the Coltrane vision while forging what would eventually become the visceral and emotive, almost bloody, style and tone of his come back and triumph in the late '70s to his death in 1982.
Warne Marsh, for his part, on both recordings, remained as he always had: significantly influenced by his many collaborations with pianist composer Lennie Tristano
. Marsh's musical approach was always one of vertical cerebral transcendence, mind-over-matter. Where Pepper would tell elaborate and affecting stories with his playing, Marsh would build skyscrapers whose musical architecture was both humorous and informed. The two saxophonists' artistic approaches are a classical pathos versus ethos dichotomy.
For a similar comparison of differing styles we also have the recordings Pepper made with saxophonist Lee Konitz, another Tristano devotee, originally released on Atlas and later as The Hollywood Allstar Sessions
(Galaxy, 2001). Pepper is well into his twilight-of-the-gods period, scorching the earth even on these relaxed sides while Konitz does what he does best: think vertically and play horizontally, always surprising and delightful. Pepper's juxtaposition with Marsh and Konitz were seismic and potent reminders that music comes from both the head and the heart.
The book for this set was largely that of Pepper's. "What's New," "Here's That Rainy Day," "Lover Come Back to Me," and "Over the Rainbow" would be staples of Pepper's ballad performances while "Donna Lee," "Walkin,'" "Yardbird Suite," and "Cherokee" would be Pepper's go to cookers. The clash of approaches is captured best in the blues of "Walkin'" and the pastoral balladic of "'Round Midnight." Pepper solos concentrically like light emanating out from a bright point in all directions. Marsh's solos have a vector quality tending in one direction and then another. Marsh's approach is almost scientifically defined while Pepper's is empirically experienced.
Well supported by pianist Mark Levine
, bassist John Heard
(subject of Pepper's later "Blues for Heard") and drummer Lew Malin and more-than-adequately captured sonically, Art Pepper & Warne Marsh at Donte's April 26, 1974
is one more blessing from the largess of Laurie Pepper, a class act and music historian finally realized.