I was first hipped to this late Art Pepper record–and the album’s Side 2 centerpiece, “Patricia”–through the show, Bosch. Jazz criticism usually emphasizes an artist’s earlier work, and tends to devalue their later recordings. This is especially the case with Art Pepper, whose infamous “comeback” era coincided with the shiny and slightly cringe-inducing jazz production of the mid and late 1970s. Even on all acoustic recordings from that time, the piano always seemed to bright, too perfect. The 70s bass sound, especially– gut strings replaced with steel, crummy pickups, etc– sounded unnatural and gummy, like a weird rubber band. But when I heard “Patricia,” it was clear that none of that really mattered.
In 1978, Art Pepper was beginning a fruitful relationship with the Galaxy label, and they very smartly paired him with some of the best players of that or any era. Art Pepper Today is probably the most cohesive record he ever made. The backing band was spectacular: Stanley Cowell (piano), Cecil McBee (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums). Either just before or after the recordings with Pepper, the trio recorded a classic album of their own, released as Equipoise. Cowell hasn’t gotten his due as a pianist–like Charles Tolliver, his partner in Strata-East and Music, Inc. endeavors–this is mostly due to the accident of time. Both appeared as sidemen on late-period Blue Note post-bop records, and were just too young to lead sessions of their own before the label changed direction and tastes changed. Arriving on the scene even a few years earlier, both would’ve been household names (at least for jazz).
Both albums fit together very well, and this morning I put them on as a set.