Hollywood All Star Sessions Box set
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The Hollywood All-Star Sessions chronicle an important part of Art Pepper's comeback in the late '70s, when the altoist was surmounting years of heroin addiction and imprisonment to play with renewed energy and an impassioned creativity. His Complete Galaxy Recordings from the period have already been collected in a 16-CD set, but Pepper was also recording for the small Japanese label Atlas, appearing as "sideman" on a series of sessions that he usually led in all but name. This five-CD set gathers music from seven LPs recorded between 1979 and 1982, sessions that haven't been issued in the U.S. on CD, and adds two unissued alternate takes and an insightful essay by Laurie Pepper, Art's widow.
The Atlas intention was to recapture the flavor of West Coast jazz of the '50s, and the label matched Peeper with associates and material that would suggest the earlier era. Nominal leaders of the Hollywood All-Stars included West Coast veterans such as trumpeter Jack Sheldon, drummer Shelly Manne, and pianist Pete Jolly, as well as the younger trombonist Bill Watrous, with Pepper himself as the only constant. The material emphasizes standards and jazz tunes from the earlier era, and the group style is suavely relaxed, often with touches of counterpoint. If Pepper's intensity had always marked him as something of an outsider in the cool school, it was also an inspiration: this is small-group modern jazz that's often as lively as it is polished, with Pepper prodding Sheldon, Watrous, and tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper to outdo themselves.
Pepper's ballad playing had a uniquely visceral quality and it often stands out here, especially in a quartet session under pianist Pete Jolly's name, with Pepper unfettered by other horns. There are also meetings with two other giants of modern jazz alto, Sonny Stitt and Lee Konitz. The sessions with Stitt produced two LPs, with the focus strongly on blues and bop. It's spirited music, with Stitt's Parker-like lines contrasting with Pepper's alternately jagged and convoluted phrasing. If Stitt challenged Pepper's competitiveness, then Konitz ignited his imagination. Recorded just five months before Pepper's death, it's an encounter between two of the genuine improvisers, each shaping music anew with every gesture, phrase, and inflection, whether the material at hand is as novel as Konitz's "A Minor Blues in F" or as hackneyed as "Anniversary Song." --Stuart Broomer
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My tastes are very eclectic, But I can honestly say that these are some of the most fresh jazz improv sessions i have ever heard recorded, even if they are decades old.
Art Pepper seems especially good during the reunion with the trumpeter himself in great shape, Jack Sheldon, an another "bad - boy" in its own way. Art soars on "Softly as in a morning sunrise" and developed a superb solo. The session with Pete Jolly is interesting as the first with Bill Watrous.
According to Laurie Pepper (his tale in the booklet notes), the first session with Sonny Stitt goes not well. Art captures, it keeps the memory of "battle" with Sonny in club and he gets a lot of pressure. In addition, a "dealer" posing as a fan comes to the studio bring to Art Pepper of drugs and alcohol. To listen the impression is more cumbersome, a demonstration of "muscles" in exchanges (in the tennis sense) as "Bernie's Tune" "where saxophonists and pianist are voluble on tempos of hell." The second session is better, it is not more purely bebop and the presence of Russ Freeman reassures Art. Two saxophonists are more fitted and improvise a blues of their own entry, "Atlas blues", but they are not long resistant to engage again in a "chase". Four long pieces make up this meeting including two addressed ballads: "My funny Valentine" and a beautiful Imagination. The last two sessions are more serene, especially one with Shelly Manne. Drummer who loves Art, takes things in hand, organized the session, distributes the solos, etc. The pieces seem more arranged in parts, with beautiful combinations of two saxes and trombone; it is in a West Coast spirit. Bob Cooper, the tenor, bounces, alert and fluid on the tempo given by Shelly Manne. A little gem: "These foolish things" with a beautiful solo of Bob Cooper on Shelly brooms; also a "Lover, come back to me" who does not melancholy. When at the last meeting, in January 1982, it is the encounter with Lee Konitz. It is the latter who mainly chooses the pieces. Art Pepper admire him very much, but they do not know and they did not, far from it, the same route. More that by the words the Exchange will be made by the notes of music: the dialogue moved as soon as the first piece "Is Wonderful". And question feeling, it passes between them as on the beautiful composition of Lee, "A minor blues in F". After the intro the Viola to Lee, we appreciate the clarinet part of Art Pepper on "The Shadow Of Your Smile".
On all tracks Art Pepper is alto sax (except a piece to the tenor with Stitt and a clarinet with Konitz. I give before each session Atlas *A* (which can be found the photo of the cover of the album at the bottom of this column), the 'official' previous meeting (*O*) recorded by Art Pepper as leader in order to have an idea of the sequence of albums.
*O* 23 February 1979 New York Album
*A* 26 & 27 March 1979 Funk ' N Fun * Bill Watrous and His West Coast Friends: Bill Watrous (tb), Russ Freeman (p), Bob Magnusson (B), Carl Burnett (dr).
*0* 21 September 1979, Straight Life
*A* 21 & 22 February 1980, Angel Wings * Jack Sheldon and His West Coast Friends: Jack Sheldon (tp), Milcho Leviev (p), Tony Dumas (B), Carl Burnett (dr).
*A* 26 & 27 February 1980, Strike Up the Band * Pete Jolly and His West Coast Friends: Pete Jolly (p), Bob Magnusson (b), Roy McCurdy (dr).
Art Pepper then went on tour with the same rhythm section than on the album's Sheldon (Leviev-Dumas-Burnett). They recorded at the "Ronnie Scott's Club" in London on 28 & 29 June 1980. (the first edition will be released under the name of the pianist).
*A* 28 & 29 July 1980, Groovin' High * Sonny Stitt and His West Coast Friends: Sonny Stitt (as), Lou Levy (p), Chuck Domanico (B), Carl Burnett (dr).
*A* 30 & 31 July 1980, Atlas Blues, Blow! And Ballads * Sonny Stitt and His West Coast Friends: Sonny Stitt, Russ Freeman (p), John Heard (b), Carl Burnett (dr).
*0* 5 September 1980, One September Afternoon
*A* may 4, 1981, Hollywood Jam * Shelly Manne and His Hollywood all-stars: Bill Watrous (tb), Bob Cooper (ts), Pete Jolly (p), Monty Budwig (b), Shelly Manne (dr).
*0* 27 September 1981, with Zoot Sims Art ' Zoot
*A* 18 & 19 January 1982, High Jingo * Lee Konitz and His West Coast Friends: Lee Konitz (as), Michael Lang (p), Bob Magnusson (B), John Dentz (dr).
Edition in 2001 "The Sessions All-Star of Hollywood", produced by Laurie Pepper and published by the Galaxy label (which thus recovers his major artist recordings) represents a significant contribution to the Art Pepper discography, without having any times the same fire as The Complete Village Vanguard Sessions".
With these accomplished instrumentalists, one regales oneself. Full of beautiful moments! In addition, to add to the pleasure of the ears, sound is of very high quality. A beautiful 38-page booklet written by Laurie Pepper, with the sessions color photos. For the joy of the fans and fans of Art Pepper. Agree it became very dear, but what fun if you get a chance to find at a reasonable price!
A selection, which is a little frustrating, from 9 titles exists.
These five extraordinary CD's capture the altoist in peak form in five different contexts, each swinging from start to finish and each featuring non-stop light and heat from one of jazz' most creative overachievers. During the middle of "Wee," taken at a torrid tempo on Disc 3, Pepper does something unexpected: he reverts to the conventional, proving he had chops sufficient to outpace the very best Bird disciple of them all. Sonny Stitt is his sparring mate. Pepper has just finished one of his jagged, angular solos, emitting brief bursts of brilliance, taking stabs at the overtone series, leaving shards of crystalized emotions in his choppy wake. Expressive and communicative, but certainly no proof of his command of either the horn or the complex syntax of bebop. Then Stitt follows with smooth, logical and assured Bird-like lines, spitting them out with consummate albeit formulaic ease. Apparently that was enough for Pepper, who takes after Stitt, exhibiting the killer instinct of a competitor who's about to humiliate the rival on the latter's own turf. Pepper's note choices, velocity, articulations, energy, and even fluency are sufficient not only to smoke Sonny but to expose his own former elliptical approach to improvisation as the "ruse" of a creator who under most circumstances will go the extra mile to avoid anything resembling a cliche, a familiar lick, a glib formula.
The man was not only the most moving alto saxophonist of them all but indeed may very well have been the best.