Art Pepper

Promise Kept: The Complete Artists House Recordings

  • AllMusic Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

AllMusic Review by

Saxophonist Art Pepper's career was in its final comeback phase in 1979 when he accepted producer John Snyder's invitation to record an album on his fledgling Artists House label. A West Coast jazz star in the '50s, Pepper had suffered from bouts with drug abuse and subsequent incarceration that left him largely marginalized by the '70s. However, after going through rehab and meeting his wife and manager Laurie Pepper, he enjoyed a fruitful late-career resurgence. It is that resurgent period that is showcased on Omnivore's superb 2019 anthology Promise Kept: The Complete Artists House Recordings. Produced by Laurie Pepper and Omnivore founder Cheryl Pawleski, Promise Kept brings together all of the tracks the saxophonist recorded for Artists House including for 1980's So in Love, The New York Album, Artworks, and Stardust, all of which were later released in the mid-'80s on Galaxy Records. Also included are over 20 previously unreleased takes culled from the original sessions. All of these tracks came out of separate 1979 sessions: one in New York with bassist Ron Carter, pianist Hank Jones, and drummer Al Foster, and several in Los Angeles with pianist George Cables, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Billy Higgins. Purportedly, there was some tension between Art and the New York guys in part due to tempo choices. Consequently, tracks like "Yesterday" and Pepper's own "Diane" off So in Love, have a nervous electricity that makes them compelling decades later. More relaxed are the West Coast tracks off So in Love, including "Blues for Blanche" and "Stardust," which find Pepper striking a balance between his classic West Coast lyricism and his late-career love of bluesy, Coltrane-influenced lines. The rest of the sessions follow accordingly as Pepper spars his way through nervy renditions of "A Night in Tunisia," "Straight, No Chaser," and his own "My Friend John" on the New York Album. Conversely, the Los Angeles dates that make up Artworks and Stardust are more relaxed, featuring buoyant takes of "Desafinado" and a rare clarinet performance of "Anthropology." There are also several solo tracks featured throughout the collection including fluid, bop-inflected takes on "Body and Soul" and "You Go to My Head" off Artworks, and a starkly soulful reading of "In a Mellow Tone" on the previously unreleased Sessions disc. As with much of Pepper's later work, the Artists House sessions are marked by his earthy lyricism and hardwon soulfulness; a sound borne out of his decades-long descent into drug addiction and a renewed desire to again prove his mettle alongside the jazz greats. Tragically, he died only three years after making these recordings, leaving Laurie Pepper to issue the bulk of these tracks posthumously. Promise Kept is a testament to their comeback achievement.

blue highlight denotes track pick