05 Dec UNRELEASED ART PEPPER VOL. 10: TORONTO
For many jazz fans, the high point of Art Pepper’s late-’70s comeback was a fournight stand at New York’s Village Vanguard that was recorded for Contemporary Records and released, at first, as four albums, and later as a nine-CD set. These rangy, sometimes raucous performances with pianist George Cables, bassist George Mraz and drummer Elvin Jones, captured the questing, Coltrane-inflected sound of his later years, while still reflecting the lyric, bop schooled virtuosity of his early work.
This new 3 CD set (Vol. 10) from Widows Taste just released may well be among the most interesting and historically significant, as any in the series. On June 16, 1977, Art appeared with a quartet at the Bourbon Street club in Toronto. It is a dry run for those sessions recorded six weeks before the Vanguard shows and it finds Pepper in front of a different rhythm section, but obtaining much the same results.
In 1977, Art Pepper’s jazz comeback had been moving along pretty quietly, and he was still playing bar mitzvahs and weddings, when producer John Snyder helped engineer the alto saxophonist’s first tour outside California. With soul ablaze, with his defiant wit, and with the musical mastery he’d honed throughout his reckless life, Pepper took his first step onto the world stage at Toronto’s Bourbon Street nightclub on June 16, 1977.
That night’s triumphant performances are documented in the new Widow’s Taste 3-CD set, Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. 10: Toronto. The absolute love with which Toronto jazz fans greeted him surprised Art and gave him the boost he needed from the very start. And the superb young musicians at this gig were supportive and challenging. He always felt that good musicians had something to teach him, and these fellows all went on to fine careers. During the 30-minute interview with Toronto disc jockey Hal Hill, which is included in the new package, Art praises them, sincerely, especially the pianist, Bernie Senensky. He enjoyed their youth; the prodigious David Piltch was only 17. Piltch alternates with the impressive Gene Perla on bass, and the drummer, Terry Clarke, seems to have played with every soloist on earth. They solo beautifully. They back him perfectly.
The audio is quite good, thanks, once again, to Wayne Peet’s mastering, which is precise, skilled, and artful. The 32-page booklet includes, along with Laurie Pepper’s photos, gossip, opinions, and flights of musically inspired fancy, her chart of problems she heard in the original recordings and Wayne’s notes describing all the additional problems Laurie didn’t hear—and his work correcting them.
Fifty-one at the time of these recordings, Art had been struggling, as an artist, to merge the solid swing and shuffle of the blues he’d made his own at age 15 on Central Avenue with the tender lyricism of his nature, with the fire and excitement of bebop, and with the adventurousness of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. John Snyder, producer and fan, underwrote and ran this East Coast tour—which culminated in Pepper’s Village Vanguard debut—to help him do it.
Snyder’s encouragement can’t be underrated. Neither can Pepper’s courage. When young, as a starring soloist, Art had toured the country with Stan Kenton’s big bands. But later, multiple incarcerations for drug use and subsequent paroles limited his movements. When he was working, he could only work at home in California. And part of Art, the part that was not self-destructive, was profoundly competitive and ambitious. Here was his first tour as a leader, and he knew this was his moment.
This latest album joins the catalog of previous albums from the Unreleased Art Pepper series. All have received raves from well-known critics. They are:
Volume I, Abashiri (2-CD set)
Volume II, Last Concert: Kennedy Center
Volume III, Croydon (2-CD set)
Volume IV, The Art History Project (3-CD set)
Volume V, Stuttgart (2-CD set)
Volume VI, Blues for the Fisherman: Live at Ronnie Scott’s (4-CD set)
Volume VII, Sankei Hall, Osaka (2-CD set)
Volume VIII, Live at the Winery
Volume IX, Art Pepper & Warne Marsh
All (except Volume IV, which is available for download only) are available here at Jazz Messengers. Laurie says she’ll keep releasing yearly miracles as long as she keeps finding them. She says there are still plenty in her closets. Let’s see what awaits in 2019!!