Friday, June 17, 2011


In 1980, alto saxophone player Art Pepper played two nights at Ronnie Scott’s, a jazz club in London, England. That was Pepper’s first time performing in London. Mole Jazz recorded the concerts, and titled the live album “Blues for the Fisherman”. Jazz Mole only released four tracks, which stayed atop the British charts for a year.

Pepper's rhythm section included drummer Carl Burnett, bass player Tony Dumas, and piano player Milcho Leviev. Back then, Pepper was signed to Galaxy Records. And Galaxy wouldn’t allow Pepper to record as a leader for another label. So, Jazz Mole listed Leviev as the leader, which didn’t seem to bother Pepper one bit.

On June 14, Widow’s Taste Records, owned by Pepper’s wife Laurie Pepper, unveiled nationwide “Blues for a Fisherman,” in a four-disc set. In 2006, Mrs. Pepper formed the record label. Since then,  Mrs. Pepper has put out one Art Pepper album per year. 

Because “Blues for the Fisherman” was a do-it-yourself endeavor and Mrs. Pepper had a small budget, she produced a limited number of  box sets. Mrs. Pepper sent reviewers a 67-minute sampler disc. The eight songs sampler represented the best moments of the live album. 

The sampler opened screaming. Pepper played an original “Blues for Blanche”. Blanche was Pepper’s beloved cat. Pepper followed that with “Rhythm-A-Ning”. Leviev is listed as the leader. At times, his playing seemed misplaced. Leviev played a barrage of notes. On “Blues for Blanche,” he sounded like he was firing an Uzi, and  his hammering the piano keys  on the ballad "What's Now" was odd.

Pepper troubled past is known. Pepper talked candidly about his heroin addiction and stints in prison in  his  autobiography Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper. Despite his troubles, Pepper made some acclaimed jazz albums “Straight Life,” Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section,”  "Intensity,” and “Art Pepper+Eleven”.  Undoubtedly, Pepper was a great alto saxophone player. “Blues for the Fisherman” ranks among Pepper’s finest recordings.

Pepper’s playing had a thick tone laced with sadness. The blues was Pepper's natural habitat. All hell broke loose on the title cut. Pepper ripped open his chest, and poured his heart all over the bandstand. Near the end of Pepper’s cadenza, he had a barroom kind of exchange with Leviev, which the audience ate up.

The production quality of “Blues for the Fisherman” was topflight. Listening to the album, you feel as if you're  inside Ronnie Scott’s, seated near the stage drinking Pepper’s music like cocktails. The audience was considerate.

On so many live jazz albums, you hear people talking while the musicians work their tails off. On “Blues for the Fisherman,” the audience was silent, but at the end of the concert, they erupted.
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