Recorded in 1980, Winter Moon is Art Pepper's "with strings" album. I know that phrase will strike fear and loathing into the heart of many a jazz fan, but this album is as sympathetic a meeting as it is possible to imagine. Pepper never sounds compromised or constrained by the strings (as has been the case on other albums of the genre). On the contrary, thanks to arrangements by Bill Holman and Jimmy Boyd, the strings beautifully complement Pepper's playing and that of his quintet, never jarring or intruding but subtly underpinning and enhancing the mood of each piece.
With Pepper's band predominantly playing as a rhythm section, Pepper is in the solo spotlight throughout. In nearly an hour of playing, he never disappoints once. Like all great jazz soloists, he achieves that perfect balance between playing lines that are logical and sound obvious whilst also being fresh and surprising. And his tone is rich, full of a lifetime of emotion and experience.
This album is so consistent that it is difficult to pick outstanding tracks. Pepper's own "Our Song" is prefaced by a sweeping string intro, leading into a sustained and varied solo. "That's Love" and "Blues in the Night" (the latter with Pepper on clarinet) showcase his fine blues playing. But "The Prisoner (Love Theme from The Eyes of Laura Mars )" probably pips them all, with a mellow-toned, beguiling solo that has a sting in the tail. Magic. There are people who will try to tell you that Art Pepper's best work was all done for Contemporary before 1960, and that his work after 1975 was an interesting but minor postscript. If they do, you need say nothing. Just play them this album. Case dismissed.
Track Listing: Our Song; Here's That Rainy Day; That's Love;Winter Moon; When The Sun Comes Out; Blues In The Night; The Prisoner (Theme From "The Eyes Of Laura Mars"); Our Song [Alternate]; The Prisoner (Theme From "The Eyes Of Laura Mars")[Alternate]; Ol' Man River.
Personnel: Art Pepper, alto sax (clarinet on "Blues In The Night"); Stanley Cowell, piano; Howard Roberts, guitar; Cecil McBee, bass; Carl Burnett, drums; plus strings.