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Pepper Adams: Urban Dreams

Derek Taylor By

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Musicians frequently become associated with the attributes of their instruments. Charles Mingus was hulking and imposing, just like his bass. Art Blakey had the propulsive, authoritative personality of his drums. Paul Desmond was urbane and laidback, just like the sound of his sweet-toned alto.

There are, of course, exceptions to these sorts of correlations. Take Pepper Adams for instance. Slight of frame, particularly in his later years, Adams physical presence was the apotheosis of his chosen axe. Hefting his baritone horn with rail-thin arms, he coaxed out growling guttural lines seemingly at odds with his stature and appearance. Like a lion tamer subjugating a savage beast, he made the weighty sax a complete instrument of his bidding. His tone and phrasing, muscular and blues-based, were far removed from his generation's other skinny guy with a big horn, Gerry Mulligan.

Sadly, for whatever reason, Adams' opportunities to record as a leader were far less frequent than those afforded Mulligan. The situation likely has a lot to do his willingness to lend his talents to the causes of other colleagues. Even the quintet he co-led with Donald Byrd at the dawn of the '60s found him taking a second slot on the marquee. The '70s and '80s weren't much better, but Adams did find the occasional resources to record. This reissued Palo Alto date comes from relatively late in his career, but his abilities are hardly diminished. A blue chip rhythm section fronted by pianist Jimmy Rowles, an Adams associate since the '50s, does more than simply supply support, and each member of the quartet has room to solo.

The six chosen tunes are all fine blowing vehicles and Adams makes certain that there's space for amicable improvisation. "Dexter Rides Again" finds the band at rollicking gallop with clocking a brisk pace through the changes beside Rowles' light comping and the steady bobbing bass line of George Mraz. Billy Hart stokes the aggressive beat further with steady snare accents. "Urban Dreams," the brief original ballad of the set, rolls out the leader's romantic side. His throaty tone braids through the melody as Hart's brushes further embellish on the amorous implications.

Two standards arrive next – "Three Little Words" voiced velociously and "Time is on My Hands" taken at another slow drawl tempo – each one showing off the band's consummate skill with repertory material. Adams can't resist packing an ample amount of blues punch into both. Rollins' racetrack worthy "Pent Up House" proves even better terrain for the band's high-speed inclinations. Adams once again burns through the changes leaving a smoldering melodic trail in his wake. His lush Latin burner "Trentino" takes the session out. No alternate takes or unreleased tunes, just the original album served up with warm 24 bit mastering. Pepper Adams' memory lives on in this immensely enjoyable and easily recommendable album.


Track Listing: Dexter Rides Again; Urban Dreams; Three Little Words; Time On My Hands; Pent Up House; Trentino.

Personnel: Pepper Adams: baritone saxophone; Jimmy Rowles: piano; George Mraz: bass; Billy Hart: drums.

Title: Urban Dreams | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Palo Alto

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