Art Pepper: Art Of Art

In Italy in 1981, the man who wondered why he wasn’t recognised as the world's greatest sax player gave a typically committed performance

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Between 1977 and his death in 1982, Art Pepper performed the best music of his life. Sensing that time was short, he channelled enormous amounts of emotion and energy into his playing, working on several studio recordings and completing punishing tours across the world.

Since his death, this final period of Pepper’s career has been well-documented with several album releases, many of them capturing Pepper and his quartet in live settings. Art Of Art offers just such a live performance, from a 1981 festival in Genoa. The quartet of Pepper, George Cables, David Williams and Carl Burnett was well established by then, so the playing is tight and intuitive.

The set list is familiar, including Pepper favourites that featured in many live sets and recordings from this time, but they are always good to hear in fresh settings. The band turn them into a lively combination of pulsating rhythm, blues, scalding solos and soothing ballads.

Pepper sounds as good as ever for someone in poor health and looking frail. The liner-note photo of Pepper with his wife Laurie shows a man wearing a lifetime of pain on his face. And yet the playing transcends all that. Over The Rainbow, a song Pepper explored in many different ways through the years, opens with a blistering, Parker-like wail and explosion of notes and ideas before the band chips in and mellows the mood – a highlight moment.

The recording is good, but the audience does sound a little muted or distant, which detracts a bit from the atmosphere. In the film Notes From A Jazz Survivor, released in 1982, Pepper ruminates on the mystery of why he wasn’t recognised as the greatest sax player in the world. Listening to him on Art Of Art, I too was left asking myself that question all over again.

Discography
Blues For Blanche; The Trip; For Freddie; Over The Rainbow; Landscape (56.58)
Pepper (as); George Cables (p); David Williams (b); Carl Burnett (d). Estate Jazz Festival Genoa, 6 July 1981.
Red Records RR123340-2