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Art Pepper: Live at Fat Tuesday’s

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The newly discovered recording that constitutes Live at Fat Tuesday’s is exhilarating, if imperfect soundwise. Nowhere in the 40 pages of liner notes is the source of the tape disclosed, but the quality of the audio suggests it was a fan recording. (“Collector’s tape” is the only description.) In any event, it is fortunate that someone captured the remarkable performance by Art Pepper’s quartet at that New York jazz club on April 15, 1981, just over a year before his death. The alto saxophonist and his rhythm section-pianist Milcho Leviev, bassist George Mraz and drummer Al Foster-were swinging so hard that the walls must have been shaking.

The set: five long pieces totaling 70 minutes; the shortest tune runs 11 1/2. Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-Ning” is taken at a furious pace with fat chords, a fast-walking bass, smacked drums and a snaking Pepper solo whose energy escalates for six full minutes. He runs ridiculous scales, plopping honks here and there. A woman in the audience shrieks several times, and it’s warranted. Foster constantly drops bombs on a white-knuckle run through “What Is This Thing Called Love?” until, for several bars, he does nothing but. Pepper’s wild solo strays far from the melody, almost into avant-garde territory. Pepper and band leave lots of space in their melancholy take of the Benny Goodman signoff “Goodbye.” Several minutes in, Pepper’s placid tones turn to violent squawks, but only for a few bars. Pepper’s gospel-tinged “Make a List, Make a Wish” becomes Leviev’s show, with some nutty soloing that sounds like four hands. When he finally simmers down, Pepper enters with a silky solo of his own. Pepper’s gospel-inflected boogie “Red Car” ends the set with a loose, everybody-gets-to-solo showcase.

This is ’80s acoustic jazz in its prime. If not for the inferiority of the audio quality, Live at Fat Tuesday’s would be right up there with Pepper’s Village Vanguard masterpieces.

Originally Published