Artist: Art Pepper
Album: Live at Fat Tuesday’s
Label: Elemental Music/Widow’s Taste Music
Release Date: 11/20/2015
Jazz fans have truly been blessed this year, as this marks the fourth album of renowned alto saxophonist Art Pepper reissued in 2015 alone. As great as the three volumes under the Neon Art banner were, this recording, from a 1981 engagement in New York’s Fat Tuesday’s, is even better due to the amazing energy and the assemblage of top flight talent. Here, Pepper is accompanied by his long-time cohort, pianist Milcho Leviev and guests: bassist George Mraz (associated often with Oscar Peterson) and drummer Al Foster (associated with Miles Davis).
Producer Zev Feldman calls this find a real stroke of luck. Elemental label owner Jordi Soley located this previously unheard collector’s tape. Feldman then quickly enlisted the support of Pepper’s widow, Laurie, for the release, and then set about putting together a comprehensive 40-page booklet that includes jazz historian Brian Priestley’s 1980 interview with Pepper, an essay by music scholar Stephane Ollivier, Feldman’s interview with Laurie Pepper who vividly recalls the date, a personal recollection by jazz producer John Koenig, a first person account of the show by the club’s owner, Steve Getz, as well as previously unpublished photographs from Laurie. In short, this may be your “go to” Art Pepper package.
There is a wealth of information in these interviews and recollections, among them this sincere regret from Pepper about his own drug use:
“[We, Pepper and Coltrane] became very good friends, and he told me, “You were given a gift by God, and to just ruin it by being a junkie, it’s really a crime. It wasn’t given to you just for your own selfish reason; it was given to you so that you could give it to other people.” He had went through all those things and stopped, and that’s why he practiced continuously. And he said, “you’re a great player,” and that was the greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten in my life, for John Coltrane to say that. Because he is an idol of mine. So now I’m trying to give it.”
The quartet’s version of Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning” kicks off in breakneck tempos, avant-garde touches and several Lester Young influenced solos. Cole Porter’s mid-tempo “What Is This Thing Called Love” follows, as does a gorgeous ballad version of Benny Goodman’s “Goodbye.” “Make a List, Make a Wish” is Pepper’s own, reminiscent somewhat of soul-oriented jazz like that from Les McCann and Eddie Harris. The disc concludes with one of Pepper’s most popular tunes of the period, “Red Car,” which also has a rhythmic bluesy feel to it, and plenty of individual improvisation by these stellar players.
Live, straight-ahead jazz just doesn’t get any better than this.
– Jim Hynes