I picked this album up on a whim because it boasted a version of one of my very favorite standards, “Star Eyes,” and a very promising lineup: West Coast golden boy Art Pepper, one of jazz’s many fine Italians*; and Miles Davis’ mid-’50s-era do-no-wrong rhythm section, Red “Fuckin'” Garland, Paul “Fuckin'” Chambers, and “Philly” Joe “Fuckin'” Jones. Those three could back up Herb Alpert on Jew’s harp and it would still cook, hard.
It did not disappoint.
I’ve listened to this album a lot lately, and putting the uniformly excellent musicianship aside for a minute, what keeps me coming back is the hot mix. A great deal of jazz is somewhat diffidently recorded, blurred a little around the edges so as not to ruffle any feathers at the cocktail party, but this album fucking explodes out of the speakers (although, admittedly, I have very good speakers). It is loud. It is unapologetic. There is an imperial shit-ton of bass. The cymbals sizzle and hiss and the snare cracks. And the saxophone slaps you in the face like an admonishing paisan.
Speaking of that sax: this man’s tone owns the West Coast. Geographical alto compatriot Lee Konitz may have routinely peeled off statements of dizzying complexity, but his tone is as reserved and polite as a state function. Pepper’s, on the other hand, combines the warm roundness of Stan Getz’s tenor with an arresting bite. It is the Secret Deodorant of the jazz alto world: strong enough for a man, but smooth as a lady (that’s how that went, right?).
Some choice cuts:
“You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”
A very fine take on a very fine Cole Porter standard. But what puts this over the top is Art and Philly Joe trading fours towards the end.
Great, cleanly-articulated brush work. Great, cleanly-articulated ballad playing.
One of Pepper’s signature tunes (very ironically named). This album’s only real burner. Who says smack slows you down?
“Tin Tin Deo”
Chano Pozo is raw like kibbeh nayyeh. As is this version of his song, which, thanks entirely to the assured drumming of Philly Joe, floats effortlessly between Afro-Cuban and bop rhythms. This is really a drummer’s album, come to think of it.
I read a little around the Internet about this set. According to Pepper’s autobiography, also ironically titled Straight Life (seriously, the man was released from a three-year stint at San Quentin in 1964 and managed to get himself thrown back inside the very same year), he only learned of this session the morning of the day it was scheduled, he hadn’t played in months, and his horn was FUBAR. Also, he had shot more horse than a glue factory. True? Eh…maybe not. But the kind of story jazz is made of.
*I have a Unified Theory of Jazz, mentioned in this site’s About page, that 99% of all great jazz musicians are either a) black; b) Jewish; c) Italian; d) Gerry Mulligan.