Art Pepper: Art Pepper meets The Rhythm Section
Analogue Productions APJ 7532
Art Pepper (alto sax)
Red Garland (piano)
Paul Chambers (bass)
Philly Joe Jones (drums)
Album notes don't always tell the whole story.
Contemporary president Les Koenig, who rightly felt that Art had yet to record with musicians who were his equal, wanted to take advantage of Miles Davis's quintet being in L.A. But Pepper hadn't been playing for several months, and his horn was in a state of disrepair. To minimize anxiety, the session was kept secret from Art until the last minute. But Pepper always rose to a challenge: he taped to his dried-out cork, arrived for the date, and proceeded to record an album widely considered the most important of his career. This is an all tube recording from the microphones to the tape machine.
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Review by Mark Werlin - April 25, 2016
Wounded American soldiers and sailors returning from service in World War II received injections of morphine during their hospital stays. Thousands who became addicted to the painkiller were driven to seek illegal sources of heroin when medicinal morphine was denied to them. The trickle of illicit heroin into the US swelled to a flood by 1949, as substance abuse extended beyond the cohort of war veterans to the emotionally traumatized and economically oppressed. Among the latter were some of America's best jazz musicians.
The role-call of addicted jazz musicians of the 1940s-1960s reads like a Down Beat Who's Who: on the East Coast, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Billie Holliday; on the West Coast, Chet Baker, Hampton Hawes, Stan Getz and Art Pepper, among many others.
Alto saxophonist Art Pepper's performing and recording career can be divided into time frames between arrests for heroin possession. The native West Coaster, a precocious, largely self-taught player who found early success in Benny Carter's group and Stan Kenton's orchestra, repeatedly rose to prominence only to slide back into addiction and incarceration.
In January 1957, during one of Art Pepper's sojourns outside prison walls, Contemporary Records' Lester Koenig booked the talented altoist a few hours of recording time. Backed by a trio of addicts who happened to be the rhythm section of the first Miles Davis Quintet: Philly Joe Jones, drums (heroin); Red Garland, piano (heroin); and Paul Chambers (alcohol), Pepper gamely blew a set of standards, blues and originals, with his horn—and his confidence—badly in need of repair.
The disc starts off with Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" at mid-tempo. Pepper is warming up, regaining momentum lost during a 1954-56 stretch in prison. Only a few months earlier, the trio had recorded the October 1956 marathon Prestige sessions for Miles Davis Quintet: Cookin' with the Miles Davis Quintet and Miles Davis Quintet: Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet; notwithstanding their own substance abuse, all three were in superb musical form and could have walked through the session, but seized the opportunity to display another side of their ensemble sound, independently of Miles and Coltrane.
(Note: There's a disc authoring error on my copy. The break between track 1 and track 2 should occur after 5:25 elapsed of track 1, but at 4:14 the disc advances to track 2 and the info screen displays the second title text, with no audible break. Track 2 ("Red Pepper Blues") actually starts at 1:13 elapsed. Growing pains for a then-new medium.)
Highlights of the set include "Waltz Me Blues", an improvised 3/4-time tune credited to bassist Paul Chambers, Art Pepper's elegant Parker-esque bebop soloing on his personal standard "Straight Life", and Philly's propulsive brushwork on Chano Pozo's "Tin Tin Deo". Pepper's alto tone has a reedy quality of the clarinet—his second instrument—that sets him apart from the New York players of the time. He's not performing at the technical level of Cannonball Adderley, but his lyrical sensibility and woodwind tone lend substance to his solos.
In the original liner notes reprinted in the SACD, Pepper concedes that he was completely unprepared for the last-minute session (intentionally, to prevent him from reaching for the needle to stave off anxiety). Red Garland and Philly Joe lead the set with quiet authority, and if the session had been recorded at Van Gelder's studio for Prestige Records it would have been titled "The Red Garland Trio meets the West Coast Alto."
The detailed and highly dimensional recorded sound captured by engineer Roy DuNann elevates "Meets the Rhythm Section" to the status of an audiophile jazz classic, alongside Contemporary's best-known title, Sonny Rollins: Way Out West. AP's disc, one its first SACD releases, was mastered by Doug Sax, who added a trace of reverb to DuNann's hard left/right two-channel master tape. Contemporary Records stereo titles, originally released under the subsidiary label "Stereo Records", incorporated added reverb—it was standard practice. Les Koenig's son, cellist and record producer John Koenig, wrote about this issue:
"…reverb on Contemporary's recordings was accomplished with mono EMT plate during mastering—something Roy always advocated should be improved. But by the '80s, most mastering studios did not add reverb during mastering at all and Fantasy was no exception. So, in general, the Fantasy reissues sound dry and tinny because of the lack of reverb…"
I have a couple of 1970s-era Fantasy LPs of other Contemporary titles and can attest that they sound dry and somewhat flat, if not particularly tinny. Doug Sax's transfer excels those LPs in all respects. The disc was an early (released in 2000) demonstration of the superior sound capability of the SACD medium.
Art Pepper died in 1982 at age 56. He was a gifted player who, had he not wasted so many of his peak performing years in prison, might have reached a much higher artistic plateau. On the 17th day of January 1957, drawing on a wellspring of natural talent and experience borne of long hours on the stand and lonely months of enforced confinement, he found the confidence to blow through a set of unfamiliar pieces in the company of first-rate musicians who were supporting the preeminent figure in jazz.
Copyright © 2016 Mark Werlin and HRAudio.net