Art Pepper: Art Pepper+Eleven
Craft Recordings CR 00393
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Review by Mark Werlin - March 2, 2023
Contemporary Records owner Lester Koenig was a friend and lifeline to the self-destructive alto saxophonist Art Pepper. In 1959, Koenig produced a big band recording to feature Pepper with musicians drawn from among the West Coast’s best jazz players. The “Modern Jazz Classics” selected by Pepper and arranger-conductor Marty Paich were originally recorded from 1945-1954, and include tunes by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Jimmy Giuffre, Gerry Mulligan, Horace Silver, and Sonny Rollins.
Marty Paich was one of the most accomplished arrangers in the business, and the return of his best-known instrumental jazz recording to SACD is overdue. His career spanned five decades and covered all the bases. He performed as a pianist in small ensembles, wrote arrangements and conducted for jazz vocalists, and composed award-winning television scores. He was as adept working with mainstream pop singers as he was with bebop instrumentalists.
What’s striking about this album is how fresh and inventive the arrangements sound today. The harmonized transcribed solo passage in Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High” set the template for the 1970s jazz group Supersax (led by Med Flory, who played baritone on the present album). In his arrangement of Monk’s “’Round Midnight”, Paich skillfully weaves the grouped horns in and out of the chart, leaving open space for Art Pepper’s solos.
Another tune from the Gillespie-Parker book, “Shaw Nuff” realizes Paich’s goal in preparing this set: “I wanted Art to feel the impact of the band, and I thought the setting would spur him to play differently than usual – and it did.” Pepper’s rapid-fire, rhythmically clipped phrases, and trumpeter Jack Sheldon’s effortless high range explorations make this a highlight of the set.
Parker and Gillespie‘s “Anthropology” is a specialty number for Art Pepper’s first instrument, the B-flat clarinet. Played at mid-tempo, against carefully balanced counterpart from the grouped reeds and horns, Pepper solos up and down the clarinet with ease and facility, concluding with a dramatic flourish in the high altissimo register.
As a further demonstration of his facility on different horns, Pepper covers Richard Carpenter’s “Walkin’” on the tenor sax. Pepper had a warm, burnished tenor sound that goes against the grain of the late-‘50s East Coast giants Rollins and Coltrane.
Rock-solid timekeeping from bassist Joe Mondragon and drummer Mel Lewis, well-blended reed and horn groupings, stellar soloists and familiar jazz classics: it might seem formulaic, but under the surface of studio perfection is thoughtful part writing, restrained and sensitive conducting, and inspired improvising.
Bernie Grundman remastered Contemporary’s original tapes for the SACD, 24/192 and LP releases. Paul Blakemore authored the SACD at Concord mastering. The original SACD issue, Art Pepper: Modern Jazz Classics, was one of the better efforts in Fantasy’s SACD series, but is superseded by this superior release.
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