Online since August 2002

Pepper at the top of his game

From the Winter 2002 issue.

Art Standards
Art Standards
By Art Pepper and the Hollywood All-Stars

Galaxy / Fantasy Records: 2002

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

The late Art Pepper (1925-'82) was never an innovator like his fellow alto saxophonists Ornette Coleman or Charlie Parker. But he was a magnificently intense and exacting musician with impeccable chops and a knife-edge tone, a guy who could bop with the best of them and swing like crazy, too. A guy who could play the "standards" like he owned them, each and every performance coming seemingly straight out of the depths of his soul.

The music on "Art Standards" is culled from six separate albums Pepper recorded late in his career, when his artistry was at its peak.

Pepper was an admittedly intense player, a guy strung as tight as a banjo string, a musician who normally looked at each blowing session as an obligation to create deathless art. But on these sessions he was — for contractual reasons — billed as a sideman, and that shifting of the spotlight apparently rubbed some of the sharp edges off, loosened the tension on his string. What results is some of the finest and most relaxed music he made. Ever. No matter what anyone says about his "Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section" album, or "Intensity."

His "leaders" on these recordings were his trumpeter pal Jack Sheldon, trombonist Bill Watrous, fellow altoists Lee Konitz and Sonny Stitt, and pianist Pete Jolley. Every performance is a gem.

A five-CD boxed set of the complete "Art Pepper and the Hollywood All-Stars Sessions" (Galaxy Records) — from which these songs were chosen — came out a couple of years ago, and from those Pepper enthusiasts who own that one we'll hear arguments about the song selection for this compilation. Paring five CDs down to one is bound to leave someone's favorite out. Personally, I'd like to have heard more than one song from the Sheldon session, and more than one from the Watrous outing.

But those are just minor quibbles. There were no throwaways on the boxed set, and none on "Art Standards." "Begin the Bequine," "You'd be So Nice to Come Home To," "Night and Day," "'S'wonderful": standards done with style, Art Pepper at the top of his game, bringing his leaders and bandmates along for the ride.

Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.

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