Art Pepper: Art Of Art

Despite road fatigue the saxophone warrior was in good form in Genoa in 1981, alongside George Cables, David Williams and Carl Burnett


This is the microgroove version of the CD album reviewed yesterday by John Adcock. It contains the same tracks and is presumably issued simply to capitalise on the vinyl fad, jazz’s own version of getting the country back.

During the last years of his life, Art Pepper toured the world extensively, often in the company of pianist George Cables, bassist David Williams and (as importantly) his wife Laurie, the latter managing his schedules, health, diet and behaviour. She also co-authored his revelatory autobiography Straight Life: The Story Of Art Pepper (1979). Following Art’s death in 1980, she began (and continues) to unearth and release recordings of his previously unknown live and studio sessions.

These five titles, taken from a concert at the Estate Jazz Festival in Genoa, Italy, include numbers he played on earlier Japanese releases – the excellent Landscape (1979), Over The Rainbow (1979) and Tokyo Encore (1979). If not in quite the same league as those titles – and the word is that Pepper, after a gruelling European tour, arrived on stage looking exhausted – Art Of Art still lives up to its grandiose title.

A sprightly Blues For Blanche (named after Art’s favourite kitten) opens the proceedings, with Art leading deftly supported by Williams and Burnett. The Trip – composed by Pepper when he was a resident of San Quentin prison for drug offences, was meant to recreate the ambience of a less than ideal setting. Cables – dubbed by Art “Mr Beautiful” – exchanges choruses with him and Burnett on a delicate but joyful outing.

The hypnotic For Freddie, a Pepper original, was composed at the Village Vanguard in 1977 in honour of a Los Angeles based Japanese cook who used to accompany him on Japanese tours. Pepper dominates the first half, with Cables gradually taking over the second. Harold Arlen’s Over The Rainbow is introduced by Art, who gently breaks down and reassembles the constituent parts. Cables and Williams combine to produce a dream-like atmosphere before Art returns to deliver a full-throated solo.

Landscape, the closing number, has the quartet heating up, with Cables quoting from Ellington’s It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) and Pepper bringing Williams and Burnett into the closing (and satisfying) conclusion.

In the sleeve notes (composed by Marco Giorgi), Laurie Pepper reflects that Pepper’s artistry “was like a chemical combination in the laboratory; his horrible childhood and his incredible musical gift, with his desire to communicate, are things he did with great success”. She adds: “I loved touring with Art. He did nothing but play. He didn’t have the time and energy to misbehave. For him, every concert was important.” This newly discovered Art Work demonstrates and confirms her judgement.

Blues For Blanche; The Trip (24.77) – For Freddie; Over The Rainbow; Landscape (31.18)
Pepper (as); George Cables (p); David Williams (b); Carl Burnett (d). Genoa, Italy, 6 July 1981.
Red Records 123340-1