2015 is a good year for Art Pepper fans. No it’s a good year for jazz lovers—hell, make that music lovers. Early in the year there was the digital release of three volumes of Neon Art recorded back in 1981, and now comes another savory gem from the alto sax master. Art Pepper Live At Fat Tuesday’s is a newly discovered previously unissued recording of an April 1981 gig at the famed New York jazz club remastered for CD.
While the recording comes near the untimely end of Pepper’s life, it captures him at the crest of his mature powers. He had returned to music and rediscovered his bliss after a prolonged period of silence as he struggled with addiction problems. He had gone through what was once called “the dark night of the soul,” and he had emerged with a renewed energy and a true maturity, a maturity that pervades his playing.
Pepper fronts a rhythm section featuring pianist Milcho Leviev, bassist George Mraz and drummer Al Foster. Together they work through a program of five extended explorations giving the quartet the opportunity to stretch their improvisatory muscle, an opportunity they take with gusto.
The set opens with a jazz classic, Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning,” a contrafact based on the chord changes of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.” Pepper’s lengthy solo moves from melodic moments to more discordant notes as the piece ends—perhaps an indication of where Pepper was early in his career and where he is in the eighties. His playing on the second track, the Cole Porter standard “What Is This Thing Called Love” follows the same duality, almost as if the artist has a split personality.
The Benny Goodman closing theme “Goodbye” sits oddly right in the middle of the set. Here it gets the slow soulful treatment, and the gig ends with two of Pepper’s own compositions, “Make a List, Make a Wish,” coming in just short of 18 and a half jam packed minutes, and “Red Car,” a free flowing blues with something for each of the musicians to stretch with.
The disc comes with a packed 39 page booklet which includes a 1980 Pepper interview with jazz historian Brian Priestly, producer Zev Feldman’s interview with Laurie Pepper, Art’s widow, reminiscences by the great Stan Getz and producer John Koenig, as well as an essay by writer Stephane Ollivier.