Chet Baker & Art Pepper
Recorded at the Forum Theatre Los Angeles on July 26, 1956
One of two CDs that team Baker and altoist Art Pepper, this one also features tenor-saxophonist and pianist Pete Jolly; all four players get their own showcases. The often-heated results make it obvious that there was no strict borderline between artists associated with West Coast jazz and hard bop for some of these performances burn. It's strange that both Baker and Pepper could play such consistent music while conducting chaotic lifestyles.
All Music Guide
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Dick Bock, owner and producer of Pacific Jazz Records, had some strange habits. Among them were switching takes when a tune went from 10" lp to 12" lp. Often he would gather together anthologies of underleased material from various artists and various sessions. On the occasion of this Baker-Pepper sextet date, which actually has its players working in a variety of combinations, an album was never realized. Instead, various tracks would emerge on various anthologies in the late fifties. Releasing these performances in such scattered form over time gave the session a status of almost non-existence. To make matters worse, some tunes kept reappearing on new anthologies in shorter and shorter forms through editing.
By the early sixties, six tracks had come out on different Pacific Jazz albums and a seventh "Sonny Boy" was leased for a Playboy multi-artist album. Nothing else was heard from this date until Pacific Jazz was briefly revived in the mid seventies and Dick Bock unearthed "Tynan Time" and "Minor Yours" for an Art Pepper collection. In 1984, this writer discovered the still unissued "The Great Lie" and gathered the eight titles that included Art Pepper in a Mosaic boxed set of the altoist's Pacific Jazz work.
Finally in 1989 with the discovery of "Sweet Lorraine," all eleven tunes are finally brought together under one roof, so to speak. Because of the history of this session, it is easy to understand that stereo tapes could only be found for the first eight selections herein. The remainder are in mono.
Just three months after this session, Bock brought Baker and Pepper together again in a sextet format. The rest of the personnel was different. The repertoire consisted of re-recordings of Pepper's "Tynan Time" and "Minor Yours" and four compositions written and arranged by Jimmy Heath. That date, released in its entirety as PLAYBOYS, was carefully planned and structured to be an album. Baker and Pepper were at the top of their creative powers and the results were superb.
The session at hand is no less brilliant, but when you look at the totality of the work, there is no unifying thread, just fabulous music. Sure, there are four tight sextet tunes, Pepper's two and two standards, and a sexy, after hours blues by all six men. But then the group splinters and the music takes several wonderful directions.
Both Baker and Pepper were playing with force, fluency and fresh ideas that glided across bar lines and compositional sections with risky, assy metrical brilliance. These were not men of the Cool school; they were swingers and were about as natural and instinctive as any jazz musician you can name.
Richie Kamuca was an excellent tenor saxophonist, clearly under the spell of Lester Young and later Stan Getz, but a lovely player who could build a solo beautifully. Although his influences were always in evidence, he was a marvelous player with a voice of his own.
Leroy Vinnegar and Stan Levey were certainly among the premier rhythm teams of the day in Los Angeles or anywhere else. And Pete Jolly, who had come to the attention of the jazz world through his work with Shorty Rogers, was a powerful, exciting pianist with technique to spare and a foundation rooted in the styles of Horace Silver and Bud Powell.
After the sextet's five tunes comes some groundbreaking work by Art Pepper. Accompanied by the trio on his "0l' Croix" and by only bass and drums on the next two tunes, he stands naked testing the powers of his creativity. Naked not only in accompaniment but also in the fact that he occasionally falters or pauses to think within his streams of absolutely brilliant improvisation. This, remember, was 1956!
The third portion of this session offers more conventional performances of standards than Pepper's dissection of "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." The trio accompanies Baker on "Sweet Lorraine" and Kamuca on "If I Should Lose You," and finally play alone on "Younger Than Springtime" as a feature for Jolly.
Perhaps at the time, the varied contents of this session dictated its fate of scattered release. But it is not a fate that it deserved. Having that day reconstructed on one disc is not only a tribute to the brilliance and range of its participants, but also to jazz itself.