Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Box Set of the Month - "Art Pepper: The Art History Project"

Box Set of the Month
Art Pepper: "The Art History Project" (Widow's Taste 3-CD box set) 2009
Release Date in the USA: June 23, 2009

"Art Pepper: The Art History Project," Vol. IV in the critically acclaimed "Unreleased Art" series, was released by Widow's Taste Records (Laurie Pepper's label) last June 23.
This 3-CD set traces Pepper's development from poll-winning early days with Stan Kenton to the wild, sweet personal music of his own bands at the end. And it's already one of the Top Jazz Releases of 2009.

Art Pepper played the most autobiographical instrumental music in the world. The 17 selections on "The Art History Project" describe the emotional and musical evolution of an artist as he reacted, always intensely, to the events of his own life and to the events of the music world in general.

The set, lovingly compiled by the alto saxophonist's widow, Laurie Pepper, includes a 20-page booklet filled with previously unpublished photographs (the first one is by the late K. Abe) as well as anecdotes, impressions, and information from her life with Art and from the book they wrote together, "Straight Life." But the musical emphasis throughout is more on Art than on history. No track has been included purely for its historical value. Each performance is of good-to-excellent audio quality, all have been remastered by the truly masterly Wayne Peet, and together they embody the heights and depths Art felt and was able to convey.

In keeping with the goals of the Widow's Taste "Unreleased Art" series, two-thirds of the music here has never been released before. The program begins in 1950 (Art Pepper with the large Stan Kenton Innovations Orchestra playing "Art Pepper," the theme that Shorty Rogers wrote for him) and concludes with tracks from a previously unreleased New York gig, featuring Stanley Cowell, George Mraz, and Ben Riley, played just a couple of months before Pepper's June 1982 death, at age 56. "It's a natural elaboration of the goals I started with when I began the label," says Laurie. "I wanted to displace the pirates and give terrific unheard Art a really high-quality vehicle, each release a kind of jewel. I just got a little more ambitious with this fourth set. I thought it was important to show where Art was coming from."

Disc 1. "Pure Art" is a story told by the young fellow who placed second only to Charlie Parker in the DownBeat polls, and who, by his own account, "musically, at least, had the world by the tail." That "at least" is typical Art Pepper. Nothing was ever was quite perfect enough. Nothing was ever quite right. He began to use drugs during this period, in an effort to escape the universal lack that prodded and plagued him. This disc is mostly "West Coast Jazz" with all its contrapuntal cleverness and loveliness -- though Art always gave it his own bright little edge of adrenaline so it never was lightweight. Many of the tunes are his originals. Sidemen here include Ben Tucker, Russ Freeman, Carl Perkins, Leroy Vinegar, Warne Marsh, Hampton Hawes, Jack Sheldon, Joe Mondragon, Monty Budwig, Larry Bunker, Jack Montrose, Claude Williamson, Shelly Manne, Gary Frommer, Ronnie Ball and... Shorty Rogers. "This music is sublime and really timeless," says Laurie.

Disc 2. "Hard Art" consists of mostly unreleased material from a rehearsal recorded at Contemporary Studios in 1964 a few weeks after Art's first release from San Quentin. It reveals his love for Coltrane and for the new sound of jazz. Art's songs still swing and have moments of lyricism, but he uses the license given him by freer musical conventions to express the grief, anger, and alienation he felt in the midst of serving what seemed like an only-occasionally-interrupted life sentence -- doing time in jails and prisons just for using drugs. Art's sidemen are Frank Strazzeri, Hersh Hamel and Bill Goodwin, except on track 7, Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge," recorded when Pepper, thanks to his friend and fan Don Menza, became a member of the Buddy Rich Big Band in 1968, doing the "Mercy, Mercy" album.

Disc 3. "Consummate Art" is just that. This is a narrative of reconciliation. In this music, most of which has never been released, Art embraces his past and his pain in music that is delicate, lively, and touching, and, at the same time, free: It rages and celebrates. Among the seven tracks are several Pepper's originals ("Lost Life," "Landscape," "Angel Wings," "Mambo Koyama," "That's Love"), Carlos Almaron's "Historia de Un Amor" and an extraordinary 1978 version of "Caravan" live in Tokyo, featuring Bulgarian genius Milcho Leviev (heard on a superb piano solo), Bob Magnusson (warm & fat tone on the acoustic bass that Laurindo Almeida treasured so much) and Carl Burnett (by then a regular member of Freddie Hubbard's group).

The edge of desperation is still there, but Art has found a way to use it. He is again at the top of the jazz polls, respected and even adored, playing all over the world. He is "a knowing athlete, trained and poised" (Gary Giddins, Village Voice), who brought from deep inside the beauty of his own passion angst and glee and connected so unerringly with ours. He was "an architect of emotion" (John Litweiler, Chicago Sun-Times) who "played with controlled intensity, clean articulation, and a command of his instrument that make his virtuosity seem almost casual and easy" (John S. Wilson, New York Times).

The new set is an ideal companion piece to Art's book "Straight Life" and, like the other splendid volumes in the "Unreleased Art" series, it is an instant collector's item. Each volume has been compiled by the partner who knew Art most completely, and in irreverent anecdotes she gives him to us whole, his music reverentially reproduced and packaged.

Laurie Pepper's Widow's Taste label was launched in 2006 in order to introduce Art to a generation who may not know how soulful jazz can be and to satisfy the blessedly insatiable desires of his knowledgeable fans. That this small record company remains in the black is thanks to those fans and to the overwhelming praise heaped on it:

Coda: Widow's Taste is "nearly impeccable," and Art's playing on previous releases "rhapsodic, heartfelt, almost demonic, exhaustive." --Jack Chambers

New York Times, in a feature article: Widow's Taste "captures the artist at a mesmerizing peak." --Fred Kaplan

Audiophile Audition: "I have loved each of the Unreleased series, but I have to say that Vol. 3 is my favorite. Its combination of funky swinging blues combined with Art's lay-it-on-the-line blowing knocks me out. The sound is surprisingly good and kudos should go to Wayne Peet for a brilliant remastering job." --Jeff Krow

This new release will be available at and at The next release from Widow's Taste will (probably) be a dazzling concert recorded in Stuttgart, Germany. A digital download of the deeply desired "Blues for the Fisherman" will soon be available at CDBaby.

Meanwhile, a weird and witty music video featuring a track from Disc 2: "Hard Art" can be seen and heard at:

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