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Classic 1957 meeting between Art Pepper, and Mile Davis' rhythm section.

Music Review: Art Pepper – Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section

The sessions for what would become Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section took place on January 19, 1957. It was a period that saw saxophone great Art Pepper facing down some serious demons. He had just been released from federal prison on drug charges, and had not picked up his horn in ages. To top it all off, his girlfriend did not inform him of the scheduled date until that very morning. In Pepper’s autobiography Straight Life he claims to have prepared for the recording “by shooting a huge amount of heroin.” The resulting album should have been an unmitigated disaster. Instead, Pepper emerged that evening with one of the finest albums of his career.

Having one of the strongest rhythm sections in jazz behind him certainly did not hurt. Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums) were moonlighting from their regular gig with Miles Davis. To call them The Rhythm Section was no idle boast; they were probably the best in the business at the time. There were dichotomies between Art and the trio that should have worked against them. He was white; they were black. He was West Coast; they were East Coast. But what emerges on this album is four incredibly talented musicians playing together at the top of their game.

Pepper had never even played the opening cut, “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” before. He knew the Cole Porter song, and after a quick run through, they rolled tape. The tasteful lyrical lines he states through the body of the tune make it his own. Next up is a Red Garland composition, “Red Pepper Blues.” On this one, the whole band swing together, each taking flight in turn.

Art Pepper had a number of different voices on his instrument, and in the ballad, “Imagination,” he fully explores the depth of sound his alto sax has to offer. It also features an inspired bass solo from Chambers. The song that became something of a theme for Pepper, “Straight Life,” is presented here for the first time. This is a wild tune, with the saxist blowing furiously in a post-Bop style that was completely anathema to West Coast cool jazz. The Rhythm Section responds in a big way, with each player rotating solos throughout the track.

Another side of Pepper that emerges is his love of Dixieland. The quartet attack the old standby, “Jazz Me Blues,” with notable passion. Over the course of the seven minute “Tin Tin Deo,” the foursome seem to metamorphose. This extended track gives the impression that they had all been playing together for years. The interaction between the various soloists is remarkable.

Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section is part of the Original Jazz Classics 24-bit remaster program, and sounds spectacular. In addition to the LP's original nine cuts, there is a bonus track. “The Man I Love” was recorded at the same sessions as the rest, but was left off the album. It must have been for time constraints, because the side itself is a killer. The solos are on a par with those of anything else here.

Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section is a classic jazz album, one of those rare collaborations where the sum really is greater than the parts.

About Greg Barbrick

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