The story of Art Pepper's remarkable emergence from the abyss of drug addiction and incarceration is one of the most uplifting stories of the jazz greats, amongst stories that have more often ended tragically. His comeback was not only complete, but had even exceeded his earlier peak.
For the last five years of his life, Pepper was arguably the finest alto saxophonist in all of jazz. It's not a claim to be made lightly, but listening to Pepper's later performances I can't think of anyone playing that instrument better than he was at that time.
Pepper's widow Laurie is working on a film chronicling Pepper's personal triumph and it promises to be a great story. Before the movie comes out though, the story of that triumph is already vividly on display in both the live and studio recordings of Pepper's post-addiction performances.
Fortunately, there's plenty of recordings left behind that document this, including many bootlegs that have surfaced in recent years. Through the efforts of Mrs. Pepper and others, these have become available in the form of well-mastered official releases.
Laurie has been culling together previously unavailable recordings of Art's live performances into a series of official releases under her own "Widow's Taste" label. Last year, I covered Vol. II of this series, which was a Voice Of America recording of Art's very last public performance on May 30, 1982.
Around the time that Volumes I and II were released, a European fan sent Mrs. Pepper a bootleg recording of Art's May 14, 1981 show at Croydon, in England. The fan thought that recording was just too good not to be made more widely available and the widow concurred, resulting in her making this set Volume III of the Unreleased Art series.
For this concert, Art was in his fourth year with a unit that played behind him throughout most of the Indian summer period of his career. The drums were manned by Carl Burnett, the same drummer for Pepper's curtain call concert the following year. Bob Magnusson played the bass, who Art believed was the top bass player on the West Coast. Milcho Leviev was on the piano, a refugee from Communist Bulgaria who back in his home country was a self-described "miniature Quincy Jones," writing movie scores and symphonies for the state.