Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. Vii: Sankei Hall—Osaka, Japan
Laurie Pepper, widow of Art Pepper, launched the Unreleased Art series in 2006. She is now up to seven volumes. All but one contains a single live concert from 1980-1982, the last two years of Pepper’s turbulent life.
If you wanted to make a case against this series, you would argue that Pepper’s work had already been voluminously documented. For example, The Complete Galaxy Recordings is a 16-CD box covering the same period. You would argue that the same tunes and personnel keep reappearing, and that the audio quality mostly sucks. But the only charge that would stick is the sound. Volume VII was recorded by an anonymous member of the audience in Osaka, Japan, on cassette. The sound, of course, is awful, congealed and distorted.
Yet if Laurie Pepper had decided not to release this material because of the sound, we would not have one of the most astonishing performances of Pepper’s life, the 19-minute “Make a List,” with an out-of-body alto saxophone incantation from Pepper and a wild, fountaining piano solo from George Cables. We would not have two epic ballads, “Over the Rainbow” and Pepper’s only live recording of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Winter Moon.” Throughout Volume VII, Pepper plays with a raw passion to get everything said, as if he knows the end is near.
There is something real and touching about the Unreleased Art series, musically and graphically. Every liner booklet (30 pages for Volume VII) is a loving scrapbook of candid photos, insider gossip and tour artifacts. Art Pepper, in all his exasperating genius, comes alive.
In the liner notes, Laurie Pepper says she is sitting on “a huge stash of stuff” from Pepper’s last tour of Japan, in 1981. It was all recorded from soundboards by a qualified technician. One concert from this tour has already been released, Volume I, and the sound is fine. She hopes to release this material if she has “enough life and money left.” It needs to happen.