Polar Bear Stomp

Jim Pepper

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Polar Bear Stomp Review

by Alain Drouot

This posthumous release (2004) documents a performance in a Vienna club that the great saxophonist did less than a year before his passing. It features a rhythm section comprised of American expatriates -- Bill Elgart on drums and Wayne Darling on bass -- and finds Jim Pepper in great spirits going through some of his most famous originals and some favorites. These include the unavoidable "Witchi-Tai-To"; two compositions penned by his father, who was also a saxophonist; a piece by pianist Mal Waldron, with whom he had a fruitful collaboration; and a rendition of the traditional "Greensleeves." Although Elgart and Darling are accomplished musicians, they are not the perfect fit for Pepper's Native American predilection. The drumming sounds somewhat stiff alongside the bassist's full-bodied, supple, and buzzing sound. As for the leader, he is his relaxed and gruff self, and his playing shows no shortage of lyricism. This sets closely represents what a Pepper gig might have been with his induced audience participation, although his antics on the title track wear thin after repeated listenings. Despite its shortcomings, this recording is a welcome addition to an unfortunately meager discography.

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