Review of Two Art Pepper Presents West Coast Sessions! Albums

Review of two albums from legendary saxophonist

ArtPepper_WestCoastSessions_V3

Art Pepper West Coast Sessions album cover

Art Pepper: Art Pepper Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 3: Lee Konitz (Omnivore)
Art Pepper Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 4: Bill Watrous (Omnivore)

These Art Pepper sides have a cheeky history. Far below the radar in the first half of the 1970s, the alto saxophonist remerged in ’77 ready to stand once more in the full glow of his talent. He was under contract to Fantasy/Galaxy, but a Pepper-friendly movement was taking place in Japan, which led to the Yupiteru label (which became Atlas) requesting his services for a series of dates. The legal catch was that Pepper couldn’t be the leader.

Jazz musicians have never had a hard time skirting contractual demands, improvising ways around them with the same dexterity they use to handle choruses. Pepper, as instructed by his wife, Laurie, simply installed himself as ace sideman for the dates. They resulted in six albums, and here are expanded versions of volumes three and four, with the former featuring a dream double-alto frontline with Lee Konitz.

As you listen to “’S Wonderful” and “Whims of Chambers,” you quickly realize that trying to assess which man plays better is an exercise in futility. Pepper is, perhaps, a trifle bluesier, as Konitz channels postbop harmonies. It’s a capacious sound, a blowing party with more focus to it than those kind of ad-hoc albums used to have, with pianist Michael Lang taking some impressive chordal solos that provide a foundational contrast to the airiness of the horns.

Trombonist Bill Watrous is the nominal leader on the succeeding volume. As the sole alto, Pepper cuts loose a bit more, the succession of ideas in his head granted instantaneous voice in his horn. Bassist Bob Magnusson features on both dates, teaming first with drummer John Dentz and then with Carl Burnett, who provides hi-hat grooves that give the music pace and brawn.

Read David Whiteis’ review of Art Pepper & Warne Marsh’s album, Unreleased Art, Volume 9 on Widow’s Taste Records.

Preview and buy album Art Pepper Presents West Coast Sessions, Volume 3: Lee Konitz on iTunes.