Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Art Pepper, "Brown Gold" (1952)


Another gift, and one I can be more gracious talking about than the last one. The album was Black California, a double-LP anthology of somewhat disparate '40s and '50s session work featuring Sonny Criss, early Eric Dolphy, Slim Gaillard—including his redoubtable "Dunkin' Bagel" ("splash! in the coffee")—Art Pepper, Hampton Hawes, Helen Humes, and others. My favorite side was the one that had four by alto-sax player Pepper with piano-player Hawes as a sideman, followed by four more from a Hawes trio. All smooth as silk, with lovely dynamics and potent forward momentum. An easy habit to play every day. I was so smitten with "Brown Gold," which opened the side, I once declared that when I owned a home I would wire up the doorbell to play it so I would always be in a good mood when someone dropped in, even unexpectedly. And I meant it. That never happened, of course—things like that rarely do—and in fact time has worn away my keenest appreciation of it a little. Not that it doesn't still sound pretty good. It does. It's spry and nimble as ever. And it introduced me to Pepper and incidentally to Hawes. I still like Pepper a lot and you can hear most of the reasons why here: a neat, clean reading of a jaunty melody, a plain and effective arrangement, and nicely crafted solos on the breaks—lyrical, jumpy, rolling, and confident, and all done in two and a half minutes nothing overstays its welcome. In fact, if anything, this applies an old show-biz adage well, "Always leave them wanting more." It worked. I find myself still gathering up Pepper and Hawes material as I find it, and when I'm in the mood nothing else will do.

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