Posts Tagged ‘Jazz’

NRBQ: All Hopped Up

Monday, December 10th, 2018

1977 debut of the classic NRBQ lineup, with bonus tracks

Originally released in 1977, NRBQ’s fifth album marked the first appearance of drummer Tom Ardolino, and the debut of the band’s Red Rooster label. Having spent time on Columbia and Kama Sutra, the responsibility of producing and recording for their own imprint seems to have brought both freedom and focus to their music. To be sure, all the NRBQ trademarks are here, including oddball originals like Terry Adams “Call Him Off, Rogers,” lovingly selected covers of “Cecillia,” “I Got a Rocket in My Pocket” and “Honey Hush,” a ragged, minor key send-up of the theme to Bonanza, and generous helpings of the Whole Wheat Horns.

As usual, the band mashed up a wide array of pop, rock, soul, blues and jazz influences, but the original material from Adams, Al Anderson and Joey Spampinato includes some especially fine pop songs. Anderson’s nostalgic lead-off, “Ridin’ in My Car” has a double-tracked vocal and sunshine backing harmonies, and Terry Adams’ “It Feels Good” mixes ‘50s romanticism with, in true NRBQ fashion, a Japanese koto solo. Adams also offers an echo of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys with “Things to You,” and Joey Spampinato’s “Still in School” and “That’s Alright” have harmonies that sound like Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe channeling the Everlys.

This reissue adds four bonus tracks recorded during the album’s two years worth of sessions. A cover of Bill Justis’ “Chicken Hearted” offers a heavier dose of chicken-pickin’ than Roy Orbison’s original, while the originals include the jazz-country hybrid “She’s Got to Know,” rockabilly “Start It Over,” and low-key New Orleans funk “Do the Bump.” The latter was originally issued as a B-side, while the other three were woven into Rounder’s Ridin’ in My Car sort-of reissue of All Hopped Up. Omnivore’s tri-fold slipcase augments one of NRBQ’s best albums with new liners by John DeAngelis and vintage photos. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ’s Home Page

Vince Guaraldi: The Complete Warner Bros.–Seven Arts Recordings

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

Guaraldi reconsiders Peanuts, wigs out, and returns to his piano

After a two year fight to break his heavy-handed contract with Fantasy Records, San Francisco pianist Vince Guaraldi was free to follow his muse, and be compensated fairly for doing so. His first outing, the self-released Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Choir, failed to gain any traction, and he subsequently signed a deal with Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. Omnivore’s 2-CD set collects the albums that Guaraldi recorded for the label in 1968 and 1969, Oh, Good Grief!, The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi and Alma-Ville, and adds four previously unreleased bonus tracks to lead off disc two.

Guaraldi won a 1963 Grammy for “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and was praised for his work with guitarist Bola Sete, but it was the 1965 soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas that catapulted his music from jazz clubs into American households. He returned to the Peanuts canon for his first album with Warner Bros., revisiting eight selections with a quartet that included electric guitar, bass and drums. Guaraldi opens the set with a new recording of his most famous composition, “Linus and Lucy,” and its hurried tempo and electric harpsichord flourishes are more big city bustle than the joyous dance of the original.

The harpsichord steps to the fore to open the waltz-time “You’re in Love, Charlie Brown” falling back to vamp as Guaraldi solos on piano. The piano and harpsichord trade the spotlight throughout the album, with only “Great Pumpkin Waltz” and “Rain, Rain Go Away” given fully to acoustic piano. The band swings, and the piano and guitar solos add soul, but the electric harpsichord doesn’t provide Guaraldi’s touch the musical colors of the piano, and now sounds more like an anachronistic infatuation than a solid artistic choice. That said, the harpsichord doesn’t dominate to the point of distraction.

By the autumn of 1968, Guaraldi had grown out his hair and started jamming with the likes of Jerry Garcia. The San Francisco rock scene’s influence is heard both overtly and implicitly on his next album, as Guaraldi stretches out in new musical directions. Self-produced, and recorded over several months with a variety of drummers, bassists and guitarists, Guaraldi even included a string section on a few tracks. The opener has a pensive Latin influence, but with arching string lines that suggest grand landscapes, while the longer jams “Lucifer’s Lady” and “Coffee and Doe-Nuts” feature driving, progressive solos.

Stretching even further, a vocal cover of Tim Hardin’s “Black Sheep Boy” brings to mind trumpeter Jack Sheldon, but Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” shows off Guaraldi’s limitations as a singer. The harpsichord on Sonny & Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” sounds more like a primitive synthesizer than a keyboard, and the strings on the Beatles’ “Yesterday” sound like Muzak. Guaraldi plays thoughtfully on a cover of “It Was a Very Good Year,” and finds some life in his electric harpsichord on a swinging cover of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.” The latter is offered here as a bonus track from the original sessions, alongside a alternate take of “The Beat Goes On” whose jamming improves upon than the album cut.

The renowned that Guaraldi had earned back with his first Warner Bros. album dissipated with the lack of response to the second, and the label brought Shorty Rogers on board to produce his third and final effort. Guaraldi also returned to acoustic piano and wrote the bulk of the album’s material, giving the album a coherency the previous effort lacked. Guaraldi warmed up with Rogers in the producers seat with an organ-based instrumental cover of Edwin Hawkins’ “Oh Happy Day” and the speedy original “The Sharecropper’s Daughter.” Neither were used for the the album, and are offered here as bonus tracks.

Alma-ville returns Guaraldi’s piano to the fore, opening with the Latin-tinged theme for Snoopy’s arm-wrestling alter ego, “The Masked Marvel,” and offering thoughtful variations on “Eleanor Rigby.” Colin Bailey’s cymbal work adds just the right push to Guaraldi’s right hand and Herb Ellis’ guitar solo on the original “Detained in San Ysidro,” and the rhythm section swings hard on a then-new arrangement of the title tune. Duke Person’s “Cristo Redntor,” previously recorded in definitive versions by both Pearson and Donald Byrd, is an album highlight, opening in a meditative mood before transitioning to a more lively tempo.

Sadly, despite Alma-ville’s focussed song list and deep artistry, its predecessor had sacrificed the label’s goodwill, and the album went unpromoted, leaving Guaraldi’s tenure at Warner Bros. to live in the shadow of his earlier work for Fantasy. Of his three albums for Warners, only the commercially successful Oh, Good Grief! remained in steady circulation, making this complete set the first widely-available retelling of Guaraldi’s quirky, but fruitful last recording tenure. A must-have for Guaraldi’s fans, and a welcome second chapter for those who’ve worn out their copies of A Charlie Brown Christmas. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Vince Guaraldi’s Home Page

Keely Smith: Sings the John Lennon-Paul McCartney Songbook

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

Imaginative early covers of Lennon & McCartney

Keely Smith is most often remembered for the 1950s Las Vegas lounge show and recordings that came from her partnership with then-husband Louis Prima. Her deadpan comedic chops gave way to a solo career in the 1960s, signing with Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label and attracting the talents of arrangers Nelson Riddle, Ernie Freeman and Benny Carter. After two albums of standards, this 1964 release drew exclusively upon the early works of Lennon & McCartney, cannily resetting them to make the most of Smith’s jazz and pop stylings.

“If I Fell” opens the album with a dramatic string-and-vocal passage that gives way to a Latin beat, while the chart for “This Girl” tips its fedora to Sinatra’s “That’s Life.” The latter is no surprise, given that Smith and Sinatra’s tracks were both arranged by Ernie Freeman and produced by Jimmy Bowen. Smith’s voice is in superb throughout, whether skipping along breezily or holding onto dramatic notes. The walking bass and fingersnaps that open “A Hard Days Night” nod to “Fever,” but Smith’s blue-jazz vocal and the quiet horn accents give the recording its own mood.

The Beatles’ quick fame made the Lennon & McCartney catalog ripe for exploitation, and while a few of the arrangements lean to novelty, the productions are full, and Smith found real artistic resonance with many of the songs. There’s a swinging sax solo on a waltz-time version of “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” and Smith punches up “Can’t Buy Me Love” with her brassiness. The album may been a commercially-inspired lark, but the talent elevates it well above the Beatle-related cash-ins that flooded the market. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: Technicolor Paradise – Rhum Rhapsodies & Other Exotic Delights

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

Top shelf Exotica rarities

“Exotica” is a musical genre born at the post-war intersection of jet travel and high fidelity. It’s name was coined for Martin Denny’s pioneering debut album, and it’s sound offered an intoxicating blend of world percussion, tribal rhythms, orchestral arrangements, wordless vocals, jazz changes and modern instrumentation. Exotica offered an invitation to an exotic Shangri-La through expansive, often culturally ersatz, sounds. Though born in tropical climes, exotica expanded, particularly in retrospect, to include Asian and Latin influences. The genre’s 1990’s revival, amid a broader look back at “space age bachelor pad” culture, spurred numerous reissues of thrift store rarities, artist anthologies and genre compilations, alongside new books, visual art, weekenders and analyses of the revival itself.

Canadian artist Gordon Monahan posited a holy trinity of exotica songs in “Taboo,” “Caravan” and “Quiet Village,” repeating them in triplet form in both performance and on record. “Taboo,” though written by Cuban singer and composer Margarita Lecuona, is closely associated with Hawaiian vibraphonist Arthur Lyman. “Caravan” began its life as a jazz standard written by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington, and though first performed by the latter in 1936, became an exotica staple in the 1950s. It’s offered here by percussionist Bobby Christian, with a twangy guitar lead and a siren’s ghostly vocal from Christian’s daughter. “Quiet Village,” written and originally recorded by Les Baxter, was turned into exotica’s national anthem by Martin Denny’s 1957 arrangement. It appears here in a vocal version by former Our Gang actress Darla Hood, as well as a vibraphone-led instrumental by Five Glow Tones.

Numero expands on Monahan’s trio of exotica pillars with 54 (48 for the LP release) expertly curated rarities. A few of the titles may be familiar, such as “The Moon of Manakoora” and “Nature Boy,” but they’re presented here in versions all but the most devout have not likely heard. And given that “exotica” is more a retrospective label applied by crate-digging collectors than a cohesive musical category, collections such as this define the borders for themselves. Disc 1, titled “Daiquiri Dirges,” focuses on guitar instrumentals, including a surprisingly mellow early recording from the Pacific Northwest’s Wailers entitled “Driftwood,” the Blazers’ surf-tinged “Sound of Mecca,” the Palaton’s languorous “Jungle Guitar,” the Voodoos’ Quiet Village-inspired “The Voodoo Walk,” and the Chayns’ earworm “Live With the Moon.”

Disc 2, titled “Rhum Rhapsodies,” expands the program to vocal tracks, giving a feel for some of the not-particularly-exotic acts that hitched a ride on the good ship exotica. In addition to a second track by Darla Hood (“Silent Island,” also rendered in a wonderfully moody orchestral arrangement by Modesto Duran), there’s a dramatic harmony chorus on film composer Andre Brummer’s “Tumba,” comic actress Martha Raye cover of the exotica chestnut “Lotus Land,” Jerry Warren’s Paul Anka-styled B-side “Enchantress,” the Potted Palm’s AIP-soundtrack-ready “My House of Grass,” and Akim’s frantic “Voodoo Drums.” Don Reed’s sax-heavy cover of “Nature Boy” gains a dollop of exotica cred from its haunting, Yma Sumac-styled vocal, and the Centuries’ “Polynesian Paradise” faintly suggests folk and surf origins, even as the wordless vocalist loses track of the islands’ tranquil feeling.

The set’s third disc, titled “Mai Tai Mambos,” returns to instrumentals, sailing into port with Latin, guitar, jazz and orchestral arrangements from Cuban conga player Modesto Duran, Canadian rockabilly Arnie Derksen, Americans Nick Roberts, Eddie “The Sheik” Kochak and Jimmy McGriff, and others. The percussive arrangements and pulse-racing rhythms revive the set’s exotica vibe, with even soul singer Bobby Paris finding an Afro-Cuban groove for 1961’s “Dark Continent.” The instrumentalists take the exotica elements as new flavors – rhythms, instruments, melodic lines and song titles to be imbibed – rather than overt commercial opportunities to be chugged. Each of the three discs harbors unique charms, and listeners may find their favorite shifting with the sybaritic tide.

The CD set’s 129-page hard-cover book is perhaps even more impressive than the CDs. Ken Shipley’s liner notes provide a scene-setting introduction, and the song notes are spectacular in their encyclopedia detail. Michael Graves has conjured magic in his audio restoration of the mixed bag of tape and vinyl he was served, knitting together the disparate sources into a smoothly flowing program. The book is filled with period photos and record label reproductions, and while the overall design is beautiful, some of the backgrounds make the text hard to read. The selection of lesser known artists and songs makes this set a terrific complement to exotica’s best known recordings, and a set that both the novice and experienced fan can enjoy. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ: NRBQ

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

The 1969 debut of a polyglot music legend

Originally released in 1969, this debut outlined the wide musical grasp and irreverent sensibility that would grow the band’s legend over the next 49 years. 49 years in which this initial explosion of creativity sat in the vault unreissued. 49 years in which either the group’s continuing activity diverted their attention from a reissue, or in which lawyers intermittently haggled over muddy contractual rights. Either way, Omnivore has finally liberated the album from its resting place and reissued the fourteen songs in a tri-fold slipcase with original front and back cover art, Donn Adams period liner notes, and contemporary notes by Jay Berman. Berman characterizes the band’s repertoire, even at this early point in their career, as including “nearly anything,” and the eclectic mix of covers and originals bears that out.

This first studio lineup included long-time members Terry Adams and Joey Spampinato (the latter then credited as Jody St. Nicholas), along with vocalist Frank Gadler, guitarist Steve Ferguson and drummer Tom Staley. The group stakes out the audacious corners of their musical omniverance with covers of Eddie Cochran’s rockabilly “C’mon Everybody,” Sun Ra’s avant garde jazz “Rocket Number 9,” Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s folk blues “C’mon If You’re Comin’” (which the group revisited on 1972’s Workshop), and a country soul arrangement of Bruce Channel’s 1962 chart topper, “Hey! Baby.” Few bands at the time would have even known this range of material, let alone find a way to make it fit together on an album.

The original material from Adams, Spaminato and Ferguson is equally ambitious. Adams mashes up trad jazz and rock ‘n’ roll for “Kentucky Slop,” boogies hard on “Mama Get Down Those Rock And Roll Shoes,” captures the melancholy of Carla Bley’s 1964 jazz instrumental “Ida Lupino” with original lyrics, and closes the album with the piano-led “Stay With Me.” Ferguson’s trio of originals include the pop and soul influences of “I Didn’t Know Myself,” the gospel rocker “Stomp” and the country, folk and gospel flavored “Fergie’s Prayer.” Spampinato offers the album’s most ebullient moment with “You Can’t Hide,” a title the band would revisit ten years later on Tiddlywinks.

The album’s collection of first takes (including the previously unreleased first take of “Stomp” substituting for the re-recorded version that appeared on the original vinyl) provides a snapshot of the band as they played live. The set list reflects the confluence of musical interests, knowledge and talent the band members brought to the group, and the performances have an all-in quality that made second takes superfluous. Whether or not the renditions were note-perfect (and they pretty much are), they were perfect expressions of the musical ethos that sustains the band to this day. It’s a shame that the originally released second take of “Stomp” wasn’t included as part of this reissue, but that’s a nit, given the historical and artistic riches that have been sprung from the vault. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ’s Home Page

Various Artist: The Ru-Jac Records Story, Volumes 1 & 2

Friday, January 19th, 2018

The history of a 1960s should’ve-been soul powerhouse

The Baltimore-based Ru-Jac label, a long-time favorite of in-the-know collectors, is finally getting its historical due. Omnivore began digging the Ru-Jac vault with 2016 titles on Winfield Parker and Gene & Eddie, and now traces the length of the label’s entire story with four expertly curated, smartly illustrated and knowledgeably notated volumes [1 2 3 4]. Ru-Jac was born from the unlikely confluence of a numbers-running real estate investor and a dry cleaner with a sideline as a promoter. The latter, Rufus Mitchell, gained a spot managing the operations of the summer resort Carr’s Beach, and developed a nexus of musical acts, managers and disc jockeys that provided a foundation for a booking agency, a song publishing concern, and finally, the Ru-Jac record label.

Mitchell drew his acts primarily from Baltimore and D.C., releasing a string of excellent singles that began with Jesse Crawford’s dramatic plea “Please Don’t Go” and it’s sorrowful B-side “I Love You So.” A distribution deal with a larger label wasn’t enough to garner any commercial action, but Mitchell was undeterred, and doubled-down with a second pair of soul laments by Sonny Daye. The A-side, “A Woman Just Like You,” is a deeply wounded mid-tempo number with a fetching sax hook and a Latin undercurrent; the flipside pairs a raw blues guitar with a soul croon. As with the initial release, the single’s lack of commercial success barely slowed Mitchell down, as he continued to capture magic on tape, whether or not the stars aligned to lift his singles onto the charts.

The first two years of Ru-Jac were filled with terrific records, and even more impressively, a few A-side-worthy tracks that never made it out of the vault. The set opens with the wicked soul jam “Fatback,” a tune that should be the fondly remembered closing theme of an early-60s Baltimore TV dance show; something John Waters could have reintroduced to the world in Hairspray. In that same fictional history, the slower “Cross Track” would have replaced “Fatback” mid-way through the second season (after a single episode in which “Trash Can” was used) when the show’s producer and the record label had a falling out, and fans would argue to this day which was the better show closer. Those same kids likely would have spent their summer time at Carr’s Beach, making the resignation and renewal of Brenda Jones’ “Let’s Go Back to School” someone’s very fond memory.

Baltimore native (and former carnival pitchman) Winfield Parker first appeared on Ru-Jac with the moody, Stax-influenced 1964 ballad “When I’m Alone,” backed with the mid-tempo “One of These Mornings.” The latter is presented here in a previously unissued horn-lined alternate that some will find bests the master found on Omvnivore’s Mr. Clean: Winfield Parker At Ru-Jac. Winfield would turn out to be one of the label’s most prolific artists, and perhaps even more importantly, the caretaker of the label’s legacy. With Mitchell’s passing in 2003, the label’s riches – which included tapes, promotional material and business records – passed to Parker, who has now passed that archive on to Omnivore, while serving as the executive producer for these releases.

Volume one is filled out with numerous little-known, or in the case of the ten previously unreleased tracks, unknown gems. Jeanne Dee roars through a vault recording of the blues standard “Every Day I Have the Blues,” Tiny Tim’s “Saving All My Love” suggests Clyde McPhatter, and Celestine’s B-side “You Won” borrows its hook and New Orleans roll from Barbara Lewis’ “I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More).” Mitchell tried out gospel with the Fruitland Harmonizers, torch-singing with Marcie Allen’s “All Over Again,” soul-jazz with its flip “Crying Won’t Help You,” fast-talking jive with Rockin’ Robin’s “Don’t Bit Mo,” and numerous deep-groove instrumentals, including the Jolly Sax’s “The Monkey Cha-Cha.”

Volume Two picks up the story in 1964 with Brenda Jones’ second Ru-Jac release “It Must Be Love,” its flipside, and the previously unreleased 50s-styled ballad “So Alone.” The year finished out with singles by D.C. native Shirley Grant and Harrisburg organist Butch Cornell. The latter pair of sides are particularly fine, as Cornell offers up Hammond B-3 licks in a trio setting with a jazz-chording rhythm guitarist and a hard-swinging drummer. A previously unreleased alternate take of Cornell’s “Goose Pimples” gives the song an entirely different feel from the single, with a full horn section and dance-friendly go-go beat. 1965 brought the legendary Arthur Conley to Ru-Jac as the songwriter and vocalist on Harold Holt’s “Where You Lead Me” and its flipside “I’m a Stranger.” Conley’s songs graced other Ru-Jac artists records, and Conley self-recorded several piano-and-voice demos, two of which are included here.

1965 also brought a sharper focus on DC acts, including The Neltones and Bobby Sax, and in 1966, The Mask Man & The Cap-Tans with The Paul Earle Orchestra. Like many of Mitchell’s signings, all three were one-off Ru-Jac artists, and though there was some regional action, like the rest of the Ru-Jac roster, there was no national breakthrough. The durable Winfield Parker is represented here by two previously unreleased recordings of “I Love You Just the Same,” one a demo with Parker singing slightly off mic, the other a finished studio alternate of the original single. Two garage rock bands borrowed talent agent Lillian Claiborne, The Reekers and The Henchmen, are omitted here, leaving the door open for Bear Family to render the Complete Ru-Jac box set.

Track after track it’s hard to imagine how this music failed to break; but the business of hit singles has never been strictly meritorious, and Mitchell’s Baltimore-based connections apparently didn’t have the juice to gain the national attention his productions deserved. Other labels, such as Lieber & Stoller’s Daisy/Tiger imprints, suffered the same fate, but it still remains stupefying in retrospect. Each of the four volumes in this series is illustrated with vintage photos and ephemera, and the history of the label and its artists is given detail by Kevin Coombe’s studious liner notes. Volumes 3 & 4 are due in March, and a set of Arthur Conley’s demos in May, but these first two collections are ready to take you to Charm City. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 6 – Shelly Manne

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

1981 pairing of Art Pepper and Shelly Manne reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and are now being reissued by Omnivore with bonus tracks. Volume 6 is headlined by drummer Shelly Manne, backed by Bill Watrous (trombone), Bob Cooper (tenor sax), Pete Jolly (piano) and Monty Budwig (bass). The penultimate of Pepper’s session for Atlas, this was originally released as Hollywood Jam; Omnivore’s reissue adds one alternate session take.

Recorded in 1981 at Sage & Sound, Pepper’s next-to-last session for Atlas brings back two previous session leaders – Jolly (Vol. 2) and Watrous (Vol. 4) – as session players. As on the other volumes in the series, the set list sticks primarily to standards, with the one original being the group-developed “Hollywood Jam Blues.” With three horns and a talented pianist, the solos get passed around a bit more than on other sessions in this series. The smooth tone of Watrous’ trombone is particularly compelling, as is the contrast between Pepper and Cooper’s saxophones. Jolly offers some terrifically melodic playing, and Manne, though mostly remaining in the background as part of the rhythm section, is clearly in the driver’s seat. He single handedly sets the fast tempo of “Lover Come Back to Me” with his cymbal.

The album opens with all three horns interlacing on the introduction of “Just Friends” before each player is introduced with a solo. The album’s ballad, “These Foolish Things,” is sleepy, while “Limehouse Blues” is dreamlike. The closing “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” is also presented as a bonus track in a longer, more expressive version that apparently wouldn’t fit on the original vinyl album. Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Art Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 5 – Jack Sheldon

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

1980 pairing of Art Pepper and Jack Sheldon reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and are now being reissued by Omnivore with bonus tracks. Volume 5 is headlined by trumpeter Jack Sheldon, backed by Pepper’s road band of Milcho Leviev (piano), Tony Dumas (bass) and Carl Burnett (drums). The second of Pepper’s sessions for Atlas, this was originally released as Angel Wings; Ominvore’s reissues adds three alternate session takes and a version of “Historia De Un Amor” with Jack Sheldon’s vocal.

Recorded in 1980 at Sage & Sound, this was the only album in the run that paired Pepper with a trumpeter. Pepper and Sheldon had met up as young West Coast pups in the early ‘50s, and recorded together frequently. Though separated by Pepper’s prison and rehab time, and Sheldon’s acting career, they reconnected in the early ‘70s for gigs. As with all six titles in this Atlas-reissue series, the set list leans mostly on jazz standards, augmented by two original pieces from Pepper and one Pepper/Sheldon collaboration. The set opens with Pepper’s “Angel Wings,” revisiting the swinging arrangement the duo had recorded for 1956’s The Return of Art Pepper. The same album also provides the standard “Broadway” and the Pepper original, “Minority.” “Broadway” offers terrific interplay between the sax and trumpet, while “Minority” shows off its West Coast cool in a minor key.

The riff that animates “Jack’s Blues” is more sprightly than blue, with each player getting a chance to stretch out. Leviev is particularly playful on this track, and Dumas and Burnett riff at one another to nice effect. The album’s ballad, “Historia De Un Amor” is offered as both an instrumental and (as a bonus track) a vocal version. As pleasing as are Pepper and Sheldon’s uptempo exuberance, the soulfulness of their balladry is an album highlight. The vocal version was rescued from a cassette, and while it doesn’t match the fidelity of the masters, it’s a terrific addition. Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Art Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 4 – Bill Watrous

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

1979 Japan-only release reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and are now being reissued by Omnivore with bonus tracks. Volume 4 is headlined by trombonist Bill Watrous, and backed by a hand-picked quartet of Pepper, Russ Freeman (piano), Bob Magnusson (bass) and Carl Burnett (drums). Originally issued as Funk ‘n’ Fun, Omnivore’s reissue adds two alternate takes to the original eight tracks.

Recorded in March, 1979, the session features a 40-year-old Watrous who’d played with many jazz luminaries and led his own big band, the Manhattan Wildlife Refuge. The label’s suggestion of Watrous was seemingly at odds with their stated desire to record West Coast jazz veterans, but Pepper and Watrous had been gigging together, and Pepper’s longtime association with Freeman, and then-recent gigs with Magnusson and Burnett, made for easy chemistry in the studio. The set opens with a trio of 1930s jazz standards, with fine solos and unison playing, and Magnusson’s fluid bass and Burnett’s drum accents stoking the beat. Pepper takes flight on Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” and Watrous’ trombone is forlorn and Freeman’s piano introspective on the ballad “When Your Lover Has Gone.”

Watrous’ original “For Art’s Sake” picks up from the ballads in a frenetic mood, and Watrous, Pepper and Freeman all find swinging grooves through the choppy rhythm as they dodge Burnett’s snappy fills. Pepper’s “Funny Blues” is taken at a mellower tempo than the 1956 original, though Pepper is energetic with his runs, and inspires the same in Watrous. The album closes with the oft-recorded mid-40s ballad “Angel Eyes” and Al Cohn’s “P. Town.” Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 3 – Lee Konitz

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

1982 Japan-only release reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and are now being reissued by Omnivore with bonus tracks. Volume 3 is headlined by saxophonist Lee Konitz, backed by a hand-picked rhythm section composed of Michael Lang (piano), Bob Magnusson (bass) and John Dentz (drums). The last of Pepper’s sessions for Atlas, this was originally released as High Jingo; Omnivore’s reissue adds two alternate takes to the original seven tracks.

Recorded in 1982 at Sage & Sound, the set list leans heavily on jazz standards, augmented by original pieces from each of Pepper and Konitz. The set opens with a breezy take on the Gershwins’ “S’Wonderful,” with potent solos from both saxophones, mellower bridges by Lang and Magnusson, and toe-tapping cymbal work by Dentz. Laurie Pepper’s liner notes deftly dissect the different styles of Pepper and Konitz, pointing out that the former came out swinging from the first note, while the latter built up to his most potent improvisations. By the time they join together at song’s end, Konitz is warmed up, and when he enters on “High Jingo” with a mellower tone, he springboards off of Pepper’s energy. Paul Chambers’ “Whims of Chambers” cools things down a bit, as Magnusson’s walking bass line starts everyone’s head bobbing, and Lang’s comping provides superb backing for the sax solos.

Pepper’s “A Minor Blues in F” includes a fine solo from Lang and an unexpected “a cappella” sax duo in which the band drops away to leave the horns to their own conversation. The set’s ballad, “The Shadow of Your Smile,” finds Pepper on clarinet, ceding the bulk of the soloing to Konitz and Lang. Pepper’s solo on “Anniversary Song” stretches the waltz into more abstract territory before the band returns to the theme, and the set closes with a rousing take on “Cherokee.” Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Art Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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