Reviews Just In
From Cadence, by Larry Hollis
We have yet another scrumptious edition to the Widow's Taste series. Whatever his personal problems or character flaws they didn't negate the fact that the man was one helluvamusician. In the jargon of the streets, Art Pepper was bad... After a contrapuntal
beginning [on Cherokee] between Art and Cables over an upright ostinato and Afro-Cuban flavored traps the alto and
piano take burning rides before sharing fours and the head. As much as I loved to hear Pepper pour on the pots, he had a way with a ballad that was uniquely his own and could turn one's spine to jelly. There was a yearning in his playing that was only equaled by Miles
Davis in his Harmon muted musings at slower tempos. [Over the Rainbow] is the tour-de-force on platter one and his long solo sax introduction is worth the price of the package alone.
As with previous volumes, this is a top-shelf presentation with attractive graphics and a thick booklet with chatty (and informative) annotation from the female “road daddy” herself. Judging from some of his occasional altissimo forays Art Pepper had a good reed that night and we're all the better for it. Lucky seven indeed. -- Cadence Larry Hollis
From Something Else Reviews by S. Victor Aaron
In November of 1980, things were going pretty well for Art Pepper. His newly published autobiography co-written with wife Laurie Straight Life had been receiving positive reviews and he had recently completed a “with strings” record, Winter Moon which would go on to rave reviews, too. He also got his favored pianist, George Cables, back in time for this tour through jazz-crazy Japan.
It’s under these happy circumstances that we find Pepper for a recording of a show he performed in Osaka, Japan. Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. VII: Sankei Hall-Osaka Japan, November 18, 1980 is the latest in a series of bootleg recordings cleaned up and made fit for official release by Laurie Pepper. These Unreleased Art Pepper series chronicle the music in the final period in Pepper’s life, a man reinvigorated after many difficult years and reassuming his place as one of the finest bop alto-saxophonists to follow in the wake of Charlie Parker.
Pepper was actually quite pleased with the whole band, not just Cables. The twenty-two year old Tony Dumas was settling in nicely after a rocky start in his prior stint in Pepper’s band. Carl Burnett was whom Pepper explicitly described as his favorite drummer. Pepper used a mix of evergreen standards and bebop originals for his set list, which, admittedly, finds a lot of overlap with the set lists of prior Unreleased Art Pepper volumes. That’s to be expected, though, since these concerts were all performed at roughly the same time. Some lineup changes and variations in the mood of the band can and often do account for differences in the performances.
Burnett shows why Pepper loved him so much right from the start; he swings with such authority on “Landscape” and “Ophelia,” and seemingly communicating directly with the leader. The bebop gold standard “Cherokee” is played at a slightly slower tempo than its normal torrid pace, but it’s just slow enough to allow Pepper to add accents to his notes, making his solo perhaps more impressive than a straight blizzard of notes. Dumas has a great handle on this song, nimbly piloting his serpentine walking lines. Later on, Pepper is trading fours at first with Cables before bringing the song to a rousing conclusion. His original “Straight Life,” incidentally, is played more like other bands perform “Cherokee,” galloping like a horse at the Preakness, and Pepper has shown no let up in his ability to burn through impossible lines. Unfortunately, the taping of this song ended early, but given the heated performance of what was captured, it was wisely left in the album with a fade out at the seven-minute mark.
The clarinet was Pepper’s second instrument, and he put it to good use for “Avalon.” Pepper’s “Make A List,” which was brand new at the time, had quickly become the extended piece of his concerts, and this rendition is highlighted by Cable’s funky, insistent solo. Pepper gave him plenty of time to state his case and by the end of his run, it was case closed. Pepper led the band through the title song of the as-yet unreleased Winter Moon album he had recorded just a couple of months earlier. His articulations on the Hoagy Carmichael song aren’t the concise, note-perfect performance he gave in the studio, but it carries more passion. Pepper wasn’t going to end the set on a ballad, and he saved a blazing run through “Donna Lee” for last, highlighted by Burnett’s lively drums.
Considering that the record was culled from a cassette recording from an unknown audience member, the sound quality is quite good. Everyone in the band is heard, although at times I would have liked to have heard Cables a little better. The polite crowd didn’t create any noise that interfered with the performance, and Pepper’s saxophone is clearly heard projecting into thr audience. Under the circumstances and benefiting from Wayne Peet’s mastering job, this is not bad at all.
Laurie Pepper included a meaty booklet into the jewel case of this double disc set, full of candid snapshots she took of that tour and her equally candid personal thoughts and recollections from that time, a time she described as a happy one for her husband. But you probably don’t need to see the dozens of pictures of him grinning to know he was happy; the music performed the night of November 18, 1980 in Osaka, Japan affirm his contented state of mind.
From the Album Notes:
Memory is enhanced by trauma. My memory of my years with Art is sharp, because my life with him was dramatically eventful, full of emergencies and magnificent and/or hideous surprises. But I remember almost nothing of this November 1980 tour which came at the end of our busiest year of touring and recording. Fortunately, I shot about two hundred photographs on this trip thru the islands of Japan, and as I examine them for clues to what transpired, one thing leaps out at me from the snaps I took of Art: He’s smiling. Often grinning ear-to-ear. It’s inescapable. Art Pepper is happy.
This odd mood of contentment on Art’s part is intriguing enough to demand an explanation, and sleuthing through old calendars, letters, and contracts I find not one but several.
THE TOUR: less of a battle, more of a dance
We have to start with what came right before.
1. An invigorating dose of recognition: Our book, Straight Life was published and we’d toured the US promoting it and talking our fool heads off on TV and on the radio while lapping up the praise––for which we both had giant appetites.
2. The realization of a lifelong dream: Art had just made, in September, Winter Moon, his beautiful blues and ballad album with strings and it was perfect.
3. And then we have the band we brought along. I should say we have the great George Cables. Art had been touring with the aggravating, astounding, inspiring, stormy, ingenious, profoundly gifted and occasionally woefully obnoxious Milcho Leviev. I’m not dissing Milcho here. Milcho himself will cop to all of it. And Milcho gave as many thrills as headaches to Art and to the competitive live music they made together which reached heights sometimes of spectacularness not touched anywhere else with anyone else. But George brought his gentle, beautiful, brilliant, empathic self to the game, making it less of a battle, more of a dance. What you see then, in Art’s smiles, is his gratitude for and appreciation of that understanding. What you hear in his playing is the swinging sweetness at the heart of that collaboration.
When I interviewed Art back in the 1970s for Straight Life, he had a good bit to say about how the character of a musician affects the music he or she makes (no, Art didn’t say “she.” I’m saying it). He emphasized the importance of being courteous and compassionate (words he used a lot). He talked about how you have to be “a real person, an honest person, a caring person… and have the capacity to love and to play with love.” Louis Armstrong said you can only play what you are. Mannerly, empathic and loving, George Cables’s character shines through every note he plays. I never heard George talk bad about anyone ever, and I spent months on the road with him him in sometimes trying situations. When Art named him “Mr. Beautiful” during the 1977 Village Vanguard Vanguard sessions, he didn’t mean just his music, though that dazzled him. He meant everything.
The Rest of the Band: A mixed blessing and a holy man.
Our previous bassist, Bob Magnusson, had more or less retired from the road. He had a family and wanted to stay home with them in San Diego. George had been working with Tony Dumas and suggested him as Bob’s replacement. I think he was about 22 at the time. (Bass players in particular, gain their skills young, it seems to me). Recently married, he brought along his young wife, Debbie.
Art found Tony a mixed blessing. He had appeared with Art and Milcho on the Blues for the Fisherman set, recorded at Ronnie Scott’s in London earlier that same year, and he played quite wonderfully. And he’s great on the Landscape album recorded in Tokyo the previous year. Judging from his remarks about Tony, here, to the audience, Art was happy with him this time. But Art had gotten annoyed with Tony on our last visit to Japan. At George’s request, we’d brought Billy Higgins (instead of Carl Burnett) to Japan on that trip. Being so young, Tony adopted Billy as his mentor, and Billy, one of the greatest drummers in the world, an eminence grise, a true wise man, did something not so very wise. When, during rehearsals, Art corrected Tony, Tony argued. Tony was too damned young to argue with a band-leader. And he didn’t know when to quit. Invariably he’d turn to Billy, and Billy backed him up. Art didn’t want to have a discussion. He wanted Tony to either do something he wasn’t doing or to stop doing something he WAS doing. So Art said nothing to either one of them but he seethed. And he complained a lot to me. And then instead of joining us at meals, Tony rambled off alone with Billy. Art thought their exclusivity was racial. Billy was a Muslim. He wore one of those skullcaps. Art’s prison experiences and some run-ins with antagonistic black musicians had made him paranoid. He was sure they both talked bad about him. And finally Tony refused to perform on the first night of recording in Tokyo, demanding, suddenly, a raise in pay. Demanding it right in the wings before they walked onstage. Demanding it of Art who didn’t know how much Tony made; he didn’t deal with salaries. I did. I wasn’t there. George intervened and persuaded Tony that this conversation would be better at a later time.
George had intervened again to bring Tony on THIS tour. In this case, Debbie’s charming presence was a buffer. Tony was introverted, shy, but Debbie with her radiant smile was up for anything and generally delighted with everything in the way of novelty or adventure, and she was a lovely, exotic distraction for the Japanese fans with whom she flirted cutely. Bad feelings were forgotten. Harmony reigned. Also, Art had told George that this time he wanted Carl Burnett who was his favorite drummer, after all, and a guy whose diplomacy is or ought to be legendary.
When I heard a bunch of years ago that Carl had become a holy man, an imam. I wasn’t even a little bit surprised. He’s a sublimely balanced fellow, a real philosopher. As far as I’m concerned he’s always been a holy man. How do you separate your spiritual life from your daily life, anyway? He’s oil on troubled waters. He’s perceptive. He’s generous. And he’s the epitome of cool. When Art called him a “team player,” when he said (in Notes From a Jazz Survivor, Don Mcglynn’s movie about Art) that Carl was …”careful.” When he said, Carl was “the guy you’d chose to carry the gun in a robbery. Because he wouldn’t use it.”––Art was saying what I just said about Carl, and Art, as always, said it better.
One thing more about Art and his bands. This was an all-black band. When Art replaced Milcho with George, he told Milcho part of why he did it: Europeans and Japanese thought of jazz as the unique expression of the black American experience, only authentic when played by black American performers. Milcho was doubly handicapped, being both white and Bulgarian. Art told Milcho he’d been told he’d get a warmer welcome with an all-black band. Well, I don’t know about now, but at that time, it was true. Not only did the foreigners believe it. Art believed it, too. The very prejudices he railed against in Straight Life, Art had absorbed, himself.
The other part, the part he didn’t tell him: He loved Milcho’s playing sometimes. He loved everything about George Cables all the time.
This concert occurred midway through our tour. It’s been remastered by Wayne Peet, to emphasize what’s good in the sound and to mend as well as possible the problems that are inevitable in what is clearly a cassette recording made all those years ago by an anonymous someone sitting in the audience. This is as close as you’ll get to time traveling to that night in 1980, to that gig at Sankei Hall.
THE TUNES: FIRST SET
Art starts the set with Landscape, one of my favorites. He told audiences it had to do with the experience of riding on a bullet train and usually it sounded just like that. Not at this performance. This is a jaunt through a serene-er landscape than usual, not hurtling in a blur, but chugging blithely through much more recognizable and really pleasant scenery.
Ophelia: I grew up in a musical family, and like many people of my generation, I listened to jazz. But when Art and I hooked up and I first started listening to Art’s music, I was pretty ignorant. I liked it, loved his tone and the swing was undeniable, and he was playing a lot of so-called “jazz-rock,” back then, for dancing, really accessible. But over time his music itself began to teach me what to listen for. I think of Ophelia, recorded early in Art’s comeback, on the Living Legend album, as the first and most effective of those teachers because it’s sophisticated, but it’s melodic, it swings, it isn’t forbidding
Art says its about women. It’s a series of statements and elaborations of the statements, a kind of template Art created in the writing of it, going through a series of moods and patterns: romantic, poignant, funky, crazy, which, as Art explored it, usually grew increasingly wild, yet always reminded us of melody and structure. This time, though, soothed by the spirit of this tour, the lady keeps her cool. She stays benign and witty, merely hinting at extremes she might get up to, so the song is mellower than usual, more lyrical.
When I first heard the intro to this Cherokee, I thought it had to be some other song. It just sounds slower than the way Art played it ordinarily. I never noticed before that Cherokee is actually a pretty tune. In fact this is a pretty album. It’s still hot! The enthusiastic “Yeah!” and high-pitched “Oooo!” you hear at the end of Art’s solo here are mine, screamed out from the likewise vocal and appreciative crowd.
Over the Rainbow was an Art Pepper standby for good reasons. He’d been playing it since his early days with Shorty Rogers, and he could play the shit out of it. The more he played it at the end of his life, the longer he made the a capella, declarative intro, paving the way for all the beauty he loved in that particularly lovely melody.
Quiet Fire: Art’s respect for George and his appreciation of the audience’s love for him led Art to give a solo piece to George at every concert. (a few nights earlier, on the 14th, a well-informed audience gave George a birthday cake onstage: see the photos) George’s performance of Quiet Fire in Osaka is a jewel.
Well maybe Cherokee wasn’t exceptionally speedy, but Straight Life, which ends the first set, was made to be played “very fast,” as Art always noted on the chart for it, and this burning rendition doesn’t let up for a minute. Sorry! Sorry! that the tape apparently ran out right before the end. I had to chose to delete it or deliver it to you not quite complete. It’s terrific so I kept it. You can imagine for yourselves the restatement of the melody, and then the ending stopping on a dime, and then the audience cheering and applauding wildly. That’s undoubtedly what happened.
THE TUNES: SECOND SET
Y.I. Blues, was included in the hymnal before it got a name. It happened to be numbered 34 in the band’s folders and so got called “Untitled #34.” Then Art decided to honor Yasuyuki Ishihara, the gentleman who was responsible for all the Yupiteru/Atlas sessions. Those were a series of on-the-side, frolicsome, profitable, pressure-free recording dates held in L.A over about a five years’ span. They enabled Art (and required him for contractual reasons) to appear as a side-man and to chose the leaders from among his friends and peers: The West Coast players the Japanese jazz fans still wanted to listen to. I eventually acquired those recordings and licensed them to Fantasy Records (now Concord) who re-released them as The Hollywood All-Star Sessions. I know I keep using this word, but Y.I. Blues swings here, hard, and just so sweetly.
Avalon: Art was secure, even justifiably cocky as an alto (and tenor) sax player, but he got anxious when he played the clarinet. He always spoke about it to the audience as if he’d just picked it up again after a lapse of years. Maybe it felt that way to him, but he’d been playing it a lot. Audiences in Japan practically demanded it. He’s mighty pleased with himself here, and he says so at the end of dear old Avalon.
Make a List (Make a Wish): Based on George’s and then Art’s rapturous solos, this may be the wildest recorded version of this passionate trance-dance. The audience’s thunderous cheering and applause when its all over tells us that they think it was. And Art’s comments tell us he thinks so. How I love this tune! (How Art loved it. He says so even before he starts playing it.) I could listen to this hypnotic, deep-hearted song indefinitely, so I’m glad he played it often, live, and we recorded it a lot. From the first insistent chanting notes I hear I start to sway; I want to dance or (listening to George’s solo) climb aboard this magic vehicle––because that’s what it is––and fly. The imposition, on this tune, between the solos, of the little formal 16 bar syncopated interval reassures us that we haven’t left earth’s orbit. That structure makes the wildness even more effective when it happens, and it did that night. Make a List is feast enough I think for all of us, the old lady rocking out in Dionysian ecstasy (me) and people who like subtler excitements.
The exceptional performances of this tune and of the magic ballad that follows it, justify, at least for me, the release of this concert now, as opposed to others I might have chosen.
This is the only live recorded performance of Winter Moon I know of. I don’t think Art ever played it again. I don’t know why. It’s just so beautiful. It was one of the tunes Ed Michel, Art’s producer at Fantasy, had him listen to before he made the string album I mentioned at the start. Ed assembled a lengthy tape of all the ballads in the world, it seemed, and this was on it, sung by its composer, Hoagy Carmichael, and arranged by Marty Paich (and including a very short Art Pepper solo). It amazed and delighted me to find it in this concert.
Donna Lee was a real person, and I met her! Art was playing an outdoor concert at the L.A. Art Museum, and she was in the audience (with Art’s old ex-drummer from the fifties, Gary Frommer). Art introduced me to her, knowing I’d be thrilled.
I always thought this tune sounded as if it was being played sidewise. I don’t know what I mean by that, but doesn’t it? Like many Charlie Parker tunes, it swings, astounds, and makes you laugh. Donna Lee was one of Art’s favorite closers, guaranteed to make the crowd stand up and cheer. And they did. They do. No wonder Art was happy.
ART PEPPER IN JAPAN If it hadn’t been for the overwhelming enthusiasm of the Japanese jazz fans for his music, I wonder if Art would have been able to continue recording and writing as much as he did at the end of his life. I wonder if he would have cared to try––lacking the encouragement they lavished on him whenever we toured there. You can hear the gratitude in Art’s voice when he speaks to this crowd. More than most people, Art required not just appreciation; he required love, and these audiences let him know they loved him. They sustained him emotionally and their purchases of concert tickets and albums paid our bills. I have a huge stash of stuff recorded on our last Japanese tour in November of 1981––when we were able to keep the same excellent sound technician with us for all the stops on our tour. He recorded every concert from the sound board, so the quality is very good, and this year the able Rocco digitized them all. I’ve just begun listening to them. They were fabulous concerts, maybe the best yet. If I have enough life and money left, I plan to give them back to all Art’s fans––and repay their love with beauty.
June 9, 2012
Los Angeles, California