This three-disc set, recorded live in 1974 at Donte’s in Los Angeles, is the latest entry in Laurie Pepper’s Unreleased Art series of posthumous releases featuring her late husband. The pairing of Art Pepper and Warne Marsh was fortuitous; they hadn’t seen each other, let alone played together, for almost 17 years. Marsh, in fact, wasn’t originally supposed to be there at all; he stepped in to sub for trumpeter Jack Sheldon. If stereotypes were to be believed, they were an unlikely pair—alto saxophonist Pepper, with his naked emotionalism, his spiky flights of exploration, his unerring swing roiled by fractured phrases; and Marsh, with his dry, oaken tenor tone, the studied logic of his lines built on chords and harmony rather than melody. The storyteller and the architect. The romantic and the rationalist. Dionysus and Apollo. Or, in the words of one “Larry,” who responded to Laurie Pepper’s Facebook request for thoughts on how the two might complement each other: “Warne was the boy next door; Art was the reason you wanted to move out of the neighborhood.”
As usual, though, stereotypes obscure more than they reveal. Pepper was an unerringly coherent soloist. Even his most torrid displays of technical and emotional fervor—or his most wounded vulnerability on ballads—were tempered with restraint, a refusal to violate the narrative arc of his storyline. Marsh, the “compulsive structuralist,” as critic Larry Kart has called him, nonetheless created music as freedom-bound and transcendent as Pepper’s.