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Art Pepper: The Hollywood All-Star Sessions

At last, they’re here! Seldom heard in America, these are the seven albums that Art Pepper recorded for Japan’s Atlas label between 1979 and ’82. Since he was contracted exclusively as a leader to Galaxy, he had to pretend to be a sideman; Bill Watrous, Jack Sheldon, Pete Jolly, Sonny Stitt, Shelly Manne and Lee Konitz were the good-natured friends whose names appeared in big letters on the original LPs. Nevertheless, it was Pepper who selected the bands and collected the biggest paychecks. The cover photo of the Jack Sheldon LP told the story: Sheldon glumly points at Pepper, who gloats over all his loot.

To some extent Pepper went along with the pretense. He chose to play some tunes that the purported leaders favored, and in fact Manne and Konitz took charge of the final two albums. The darkness of his quartet CDs-in the form of modal moods, very long minor-key solos and long, self-flagellating intros and codas-is largely absent. Instead, here are bright tempos, many chord changes, 4/4 meters and mostly a 1950s West Coast jazz atmosphere and repertoire. Nevertheless, most of the players are Pepper loyalists, especially drummer Carl Burnett (on four albums) and bassist Bob Magnusson (three albums). There is the same range of success and failure as on his quartet Galaxies; the Sheldon and Konitz sessions are among his career highlights.

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