The Hollywood All-Star Sessions (Galaxy)
Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., July 13, 2001
The Hollywood All-Star Sessions (Galaxy)With the first American release of the sessions that make up this 5-CD box set, alto saxophonist Art Pepper displays the brilliant playing that characterized his astounding comeback in the last years of his life. To pigeonhole Pepper as just another "cool school" West Coast jazz musician is to belie the fiery and impassioned blowing he consistently brought to the fore. Because he was under contract at the time, these sessions were cut for the Japanese Atlas imprint between 1979-82, Pepper was initially listed as a sideman when in reality he was always the intended leader around whom all the groups were organized. The label wanted a re-creation of the West Coast sessions of the Fifties, with many of the same musicians and the same tunes. While this explains the thoroughly mainstream nature of the dates, Pepper's sparkling, mercurial playing transcends any limitations the material imposed. He's teamed in various combinations with L.A. stalwarts like drummer Shelley Manne, trumpeter Jack Shelton, trombonist Bill Watrous, and pianist Pete Jolly. Of the seven different sessions comprising the box, by far the most noteworthy are those where he jousts with fellow altoists Sonny Stitt and Lee Konitz. The styles of Stitt and Konitz differ like fire and water, but Pepper complements both accordingly with vastly different results. The two Stitt dates are primarily no-holds-barred bebop blowouts with both men locking horns and trading furious licks back and forth. Konitz is a far less combative partner and his date with Pepper is marked by an overall sense of mutual interaction and moments of sublime communication. Five months after the Konitz session, Art Pepper's lifelong race with the devil was over. The music in this box set is all the more reason to mourn his passing.