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Record Store Day Preview Listening Report: A Tale Of Two Jazz Peppers On Vinyl

Mark Smotroff enjoys different flavors of Pepper…

This year on Record Store Day (April 23) there are two very different vinyl releases by two very different saxophone players coming out, one live from the archives and the other a much sought after studio session. Both are excellent in their own way. Both artists happen to be named Pepper, too!

Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section

First up is a highly sought after album by West Coast jazz saxophone legend Art Pepper from the legendary and high quality archives of Contemporary Records.  Recorded by the great Roy DuNann, most every album I’ve ever heard on this label bears such a distinctive clean sound, I don’t know why so many people overlook these records. Contemporary was a quality label with a tendency towards pulling out excellent performances from their musicians, so much so that I have more or less begun to pick up most any album from there that I find.

Contemporary (and their “Stereo Records” sister brand) are right up there with Van Gelder recordings on Blue Note and Prestige — frankly, many even sound better in many ways. 

There, I said it. 

Indeed, Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section is desirable not only because of the fidelity but also the performances. Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones came together as a formidable unit working with Miles Davis. Capturing their East Coast jazz essence in a bottle and pairing it with a West Coast rising star was a stroke of brilliance on the part of the producers.  

This album has obviously gone on to become the stuff of legend and is highly sought after among jazz collectors. As of this writing, there not many copies available on Discogs and they range in price from about $150 to nearly $500 in VG condition (click here for a recent search). So, a nice reissue was overdue. 

Remastered in an all-analog process from original Monaural tape sources by the great Bernie Grundman — and lovingly manufactured at Quality Record Pressing (QRP) on 180-gram black vinyl (well centered and quiet) — Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section is pretty much a no brainer for most fans of classic jazz from the 1950s. For an album recorded in one five hour session, the chemistry they found together is quite remarkable. While I don’t have an original copy to compare this to, this new album sounds very very nice; hopefully someday I’ll get my hands on an early pressing and I’ll try to update this review at that time.

Pepper Adams With The Tommy Banks Trio: Live At Room At The Top

I’ve enjoyed Pepper Adams’ playing over the years but he’s never been one of those players people seem to talk about much. Purely guessing here — and I don’t claim to be the world’s authority on Mr. Adams — but I wonder perhaps if it was because on his earlier recordings he might not have had as much opportunity to stretch out and wail. I have a couple and I don’t remember him letting loose as much as might have hoped. Maybe I just have the wrong albums! Or perhaps it is that his career had many ups and downs making for an inconsistent schedule of his own releases, achieving financial stability recording in support of others (click here for a wiki page on his background).  

On Pepper Adams With The Tommy Banks Trio: Live At Room At The Top we find Mr. Adams backed by a Canadian group I’d not heard of before but who are well oiled and swinging. Tommy Banks apparently had quite a career ranging from acclaimed pianist, composer and arranger to TV personality and Senator! (Click here for his Wiki page). 

Recorded at September 25th, 1972 at the University of Alberta, this performance finds Adams backed by Banks’ very tight swinging trio which gives him the buoyancy to float free long flowing solos for about 100 minutes. This is a “blowing session” in the classic sense of the phrase — the musicians are on from the get-go and they jam relentlessly. 

Well, at least on the parts I’ve heard…  Unfortunately, my copy came only with two copies of the second discs in the two-LP set so I have to trust that disc one is as good. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a replacement disc at some point…

I received my advance copy from the good folks at Reel To Reel Records which is releasing this fine concert.  It was mastered by Kevin Gray of Cohearant Audio from original tapes newly pulled from a private archive. 

The recording generally sounds great! It is a well recorded soundboard-quality session. For those of you not into the flavor of more ambient audience recordings fear not — this session is very up front and nicely mixed with a good sense of dynamics and detailing on all the instruments. Listen for the resonant tom tom fills on the drum breaks on “Oleo” — its not all just bass and crisp highs, which can happen in some older archival tapes if the instruments weren’t mic’d well. 

Do note that there are some periodic drop outs (or possible splices) on the tape and minor tape speed / tape-stretching anomalies, but in generally the fidelity is excellent for a 50 year old archive recording. Thepressing is excellent, dark, quiet and well centered black 180-gram vinyl. The album comes with a simple but informative booklet with period photos and essays about the artists and the session. 

So, there you have it: a tale of two peppers! Both are tasty in their own right and deliver a fine vinyl listening experience. More joys to consider for your Record Store Day shopping spree coming up soon!

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