Written by 11:15 am Analog, Audiophile, Audiophile Music, Audiophile News, Vinyl

Listening Report: Why You Want To Hear Art Pepper Plus Eleven In Stereo

Mark Smotroff enjoys some pepper every now and then…

I gotta admit folks, I have thought about and listened to Art Pepper’s music a whole lot more in the past few years than in my entire life. That is in part an effect of good marketing from Mr. Pepper’s estate which has no doubt helped to drive some of the good will of present day interest in the artist by opening the archives to a number of fine reissues and previously unreleased live recordings (and even securing some TV placements, which some friends on social media have recently alerted me to — thanks for the pointers, folks!). 

This is all a good thing because there was clearly some great work done by the man and it is no doubt important for a new generation — and those like me who were too young to get on that bus the first time ‘round — to discover his accomplishments. That said, if you want to catch up on some of my reports on these archival releases, please click here and here to jump to them.

About five years ago I had the amazing crate-digging at an estate sale luck finding a near perfect condition Mono copy of Art Pepper’s classic album on the Contemporary Records label, Art Pepper + Eleven : Modern Jazz Classics (for three dollars!).  It was, in all honestly, the first Art Pepper album I’d heard and I’ve since learned that this was not a bad place to start my listening journey. 

Musically, this album feels rich in almost prototypical West Coast large band jazz sounds, somewhat akin to the vibe Shorty Rodgers was driving (or early Maynard Ferguson with perhaps a bit less pyrotechnic flair). This kind of music more or less set a template for the more (ahem) refined Jazz sounds one would hear on television for many years to come (think Doc Severinson’s Tonight Show orchestra). This is not a bad thing, but for those who have never heard this music before I am trying to paint pictures with words to set expectations accordingly. 

Not surprisingly, it is interesting to note that arranger/conductor Marty Paich (yes, father of Toto’s David Paich) not only worked with Shorty, Stan Kenton and Buddy Rich (among many others) but into the ‘60s he did a lot of work for television. The wiki says he led the orchestras for The Smothers Brothers and Glen Campbell shows and later for Sonny & Cher and also reports he scored films starring Yogi Bear and The Flintstones! 

Gotta admit, when I listen to Paich’s arrangment here of Dizzy Gillespie’s Be Bop-era classic “Groovin’ High”on Art Pepper + Eleven : Modern Jazz Classics I can’t help but recall TV shows I saw in re-runs when I was growing up, particularly the theme to the Dick Van Dyke Show.   

That said, Pepper and Paich had some history working together. Pepper was a featured artist in the latter’s own quartet on the Tampa Records label, the same label the former recorded for with his quartet  in 1957 (reissued by Omnivore Recordings several years ago). 

Point is, this isn’t the kind of Jazz you’ll hear on Coltrane’s A Love Supreme or Giant Steps… or Mingus’ Ah Um or Oh Yeah… or even that sort of intimate feel of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue or the moody beauty of Gil Evans’ orchestral-flavored arrangements on Sketches of Spain and Porgy & Bess. If any thing Art Pepper + Eleven : Modern Jazz Classics is perhaps closer in vibe of some of Ellington’s later works (notably the acclaimed performance at Newport which reinvigorated Ellington’s career at that time). This is very driven and generally upbeat sounding music.  

The music selections on Art Pepper + Eleven : Modern Jazz Classics are exemplary, featuring Paich’s arrangements of songs by no less than Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk.

Art Pepper + Eleven : Modern Jazz Classics has just been reissued by the good folks at Craft Recordings in conjunction with the equally good folks at Acoustic sounds and the new edition is excellent. It is also a treat for me since my original copy is Mono and the new version is in Stereo! 

As much as I like the Mono mix, the Stereo version sounds a bit richer and more inviting. This isn’t entirely surprising as Contemporary Records was an early embracer of Stereo technology.  In fact, initially they created a separate label imprint called — literally — Stereo Records but those soon simply became Contemporary Records, color coded with a black label (vs. yellow for the Mono editions).  

An early Stereo Records label from Contemporary Records

Why do I prefer the Stereo version of Art Pepper + Eleven : Modern Jazz ClassicsWell, since Pepper is playing with a rather large band here, the Stereo mix delivers a bit more cinemascopic “view” of the group (if you will).  Don’t get me wrong, the Mono is great sounding, clean and punchy. But there is a nice sense of studio and place on the Stereo version while the instruments also sound very detailed and direct here. I went back to listen more closely to the Mono mix and it does seems to add in a bit of reverb to create some sense of air and space in a single channel recording.

The new pressing of Art Pepper + Eleven : Modern Jazz Classics is top notch, crafted on thick, dark, black 180-gram vinyl with all analog mastering from the original tapes by the legendary audio engineer, Bernie Grundman. The discs were manufactured by Quality Record Pressing (QRP) and come housed in audiophile grade plastic inner sleeves. The cover art is comparable to my original Mono edition, made of thick cardboard with clean original graphics and photography. 

Art Pepper + Eleven : Modern Jazz Classics is a good listen, Jazz you can probably play for people who don’t typically like Jazz. It is well performed, non threatening and buttery smooth so you can just bask in the melodies and the tone of Mr. Pepper’s beautiful saxophone playing. This album is definitely worth picking up if you are a deep fan or just new to his music. 

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