ART PEPPER Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section (Analogue Productions)
Jazz legend recounts that “Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section” - which documents a January 1957 afternoon saxophonist Pepper spent collaborating with Miles Davis’ rhythm section – was recorded under adverse circumstances. Art was only informed of the session the morning before it happened lest he worry about it, he hadn’t played for weeks, his instrument was in poor health and he had a drug problem. The resulting record is frequently hailed as a jazz classic, but, unfortunately, no matter how much I listen to it (11 times so far) I still stare at the track titles on the back cover in blank incomprehension. I really wanted to enjoy it, but it just slides immaculately past whenever I play it. At least it’s unlikely to become over-familiar. It’s not even as though I’m anti-Art: his next album, “Art Pepper + Eleven”, is also in the to-be-reviewed pile, and that’s pretty much a delight from start to finish. There’s so much pedigree and polish here, I’m genuinely saddened that it doesn’t seem to add up to more than it does for me.
If it doesn’t reach me musically, the sound on Analogue Productions’ 180 gram vinyl reissue is, like their “Waltz For Debby” I raved about elsewhere, absolutely gorgeous from the first note. It’s real you-are-there, band-in-your-lounge stuff ,with Philly Joe Jones’ drums particularly well caught, albeit with the rhythm section all crowded in one corner and Art facing them from the other, like some kind of wild west standoff.
ART PEPPER Art Pepper + Eleven (Contemporary)
It’s perhaps unusual to see credits for arrangement and conducting on a jazz album, but here Marty Paich does both, keeping his 11-piece big band in line. Although the bedrock of these performances does indeed sound scripted (albeit not intrusively so) the soloists are given free reign to wail expressively where appropriate. The album’s sometime subtitle, “Modern Jazz Classics”, is also revealing: drawn from the books of the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Jimmy Giuffre, Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins, there’s not a single showtune or adapted standard here; it’s jazz that confronts and celebrates its own recent history.
Having failed to warm to the feted “Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section” (the eponymous rhythm section being the motive force behind Miles Davis’ contemporary group), I found this album something of a revelation. The joyous, unfettered statement of intent “Move” is given pole position here, perhaps not coincidentally just as Miles’ version was on his epochal “Birth Of The Cool” set. Pepper and company tear through Charlie Parker compositions “Shawnuff” and “Donna Lee” at lightspeed, yet soften and socialise their bebop roots, not an objectionable aesthetic decision to somebody, like me, who might find Bird’s music delivers a bit too much of a pounding. “’Round Midnight” is showy but a mood cooler, even without the aching, parched desolation Miles brought to his version (and to pretty much everything he played in the latter half of the 1950s). “Airegin” is, like most of the performances collected here, a kinetic delight, instruments sparking off and meshing with each other rhythmically and melodically. “Walkin’” might be the album’s highlight: this slow, sleazy reading sounds like a siren call to naughtiness, less “Walkin’” than “Loiterin’ With Intent”.
With its generic “The Nicest Thing You Can Do For Your Stylus And Your Ears” black and gold warning sticker, I wasn’t expecting great things sonically from this 140 gram pressing. Happily, though, it sounds really good: vital and alive, if it lacks the ultimate realism found on Analogue Productions’ reissue of “Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section” it’s still great fun, especially the bristling cackle of the brass section.