The story goes that in 1977, Japanese label Atlas approached saxophonist and erstwhile cool jazz star Art Pepper about possibly doing some recording. Notoriously, Pepper had spent the better part of the prior 20 years in and out of prison and toiling with drug addiction. By the late '70s however, with his wife and then manager Laurie Pepper's help, he had resurrected his career. Subsequently, labels like Atlas were once again hoping to recapture Pepper's distinctive sound on record. To avoid violating his contract with Fantasy/Galaxy, Pepper decided to appear as a sideman on the recordings, bringing on various "headliners" to release under. For his third Atlas date, 1980's Strike Up the Band: Pete Jolly & His West Coast Friends, Pepper hired longtime West Coast pianist Jolly, with whom he had previously recorded the classic 1956 Chet Baker album Playboys. Joining them were bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer Roy McCurdy. The 2017 Omnivore compilation, Art Pepper Presents West Coast Sessions, Vol. 2: Pete Jolly, brings together all of the tracks recorded at the session. Also included are liner notes from compilation producer Laurie Pepper. Primarily, this is a brightly swinging affair that balances the cool lyricism of the saxophonist's early years with the bluesy, post-John Coltrane harmonic maturity that marked his latter career. Here, we get a handful of lyrical, if sanguinely delivered standards, including a sprightly take on the George Gershwin title track, a soulful, Latin-tinged rendition of Cole Porter's "Night and Day," and a jaggedly buoyant version of Harry Barris' "I Surrender Dear," with Pepper gritting into the melody like he's brushing a cavity. Similarly engaging is the ensemble's soulful, delicately funky version of Pepper's "Y.I. Blues," of which we also get two worthy alternate versions accented by some candid, between-take studio chatter. However, it's their dusky, bittersweet reading of Matt Dennis' "Everything Happens to Me" that sticks with you. Played at the tempo of a slow tide with Pepper's mournfully sweet alto at the crest, it evokes a noir-ish West Coast romanticism. It's almost as if Pepper is looking back through the hazy corridor of sex, drugs, and smoky late-night gigs that stretch back to the '50s.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar