When Art Pepper's widow, Laurie Pepper, put out Unreleased Art, Vol. 4 on her Widow's Taste label in June 2009, it was offered two different ways: the collection was sold as a physical three-CD set, but each of the three discs could also be purchased individually on the Internet as a digital download. Laurie envisioned a collection that would trace her late husband's development from his early years to the final period of his career -- and the fact that Unreleased Art, Vol. 4 spans 1951-1982 certainly gives it a lot of collector's appeal. The first of the three discs, Pure Art, focuses on the alto saxophonist's cool period with recordings from 1951-1960; most of them find him recording as a leader, although he is heard as a featured soloist in Stan Kenton's big band on "Art Pepper." And while the other two discs are full of rarities and previously unreleased material, everything on Pure Art is previously released and was licensed from Savoy, Capitol, or Contemporary. The '50s were an extremely productive time for Pepper, who was one of cool jazz's most accomplished alto players (along with Lee Konitz, Paul Desmond, and Bud Shank). Pure Art is far from the last word on the altoist's cool period, but he is clearly in fine form on uptempo selections like "Straight Life" and the Afro-Cuban-flavored "Mambo de la Pinta" (both Pepper originals) as well as on lyrical performances of the standards "Everything Happens to Me," "What's New," "Besame Mucho," and "These Foolish Things." Art Pepper's style changed considerably in the '60s, when he began exploring modal post-bop and was greatly influenced by John Coltrane's innovations. But the Art Pepper heard on Pure Art is, for the most part, a cool-toned saxman who approaches bop changes with subtlety and restraint. There are plenty of great Art Pepper recordings from the '50s that aren't on Pure Art; nonetheless, this 68-minute disc paints a consistently attractive picture of his cool period.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson