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Art Pepper: The Discovery Sessions

Art Pepper cut tracks for the Discovery label in 1952 and 1954, and then later Savoy purchased them. All of the titles are here, but not all of the alternate takes contained on a 1977 Savoy two-fer LP reissue.

This is some of Pepper’s finest recorded work. He may have been given too much publicity for the wrong reason- he was an incorrigible junkie-but he was also a very important alto saxophonist. As a teenager with Stan Kenton he had a saxophonist Willie Smith-like style, but after coming out of the service in 1946 synthesized the approaches of Lester Young and Charlie Parker. Pepper’s tone was vibratoless, small, light and penetrating, and he played a lot of notes, often using darting double-time passages. He also had the melodic inventiveness to play pretty, song-like solos, and the chops and quick flow of ideas to enable him to eat up chord changes at fast tempos. He does both on The Discovery Sessions.

On one 1952 quartet session he works with the great pianist Hampton Hawes, on another with Russ Freeman. The remaining tracks were cut in 1953 with tenorman Jack Montrose and pianist Claude Williamson. Some tunes here are blues, some standards and others based on the changes of standards. There’s a wonderful zest about Pepper’s medium and up tempo work and tenderness in his ballad playing.

Pepper’s pianists do an outstanding job; all had excellent technique and could swing their tails off. Notice how, at times, Hawes establishes a groove with his left hand by punctuating twice per bar, a technique Red Garland popularized several years later with Miles Davis. Freeman, the only pianist I know of to be influenced by Joe Albany, and he also dug Bud Powell, coincidentally developed a style that anticipated Horace Silver’s. The Young-influenced Montrose does a fine job, not only soloing but also engaging in contrapuntal playing with Pepper. His calmer playing contrasts nicely with Art’s, and he had the speed to keep up with him on quick tempos.

Originally Published