I read Pepper’s scurrilous autobiography at a very impressionable age (13), so his music has always held a special significance for me. This early album, comprising sessions from 1952 and 1954, fizzles with a certain magic throughout, and contains multiple takes of some excellent Pepper themes mainly titled after herbs and spices. In fact, they are all out-takes from the original album Discoveries (which I must admit to never having owned), but you would be hard pressed to tell most of the time, since the musicians often come close to perfection within their breezy west-coast idiom: the studio must have had extremely high standards. The contrapuntal themes such as ‘Art’s Oregano’, with Pepper’s alto and Jack Montrose’s tenor crocheting complex patterns, are what make this album special, together with Pepper’s crystal clear sound and endless fluency.
Plus Eleven: Modern Jazz Classics
Probably the most acclaimed Pepper album, this 1959 classic sees him accompanied by an eleven-piece band arranged by Marty Paich, and playing, as the title accurately says, ‘modern jazz classics’ such as ‘Round Midnight’, ‘Donna Lee’, ‘Four Brothers’, and nine other equally celebrated and well-selected numbers. Pepper’s alto playing is superb throughout, and he even plays some very effective tenor and clarinet, but Paich’s impeccable and endlessly inventive charts are at least as important to the success of this album.
This 1978 quartet session, with Cecil McBee’s unmistakable bass booming, warbling, and underpinning everything, is my favourite Pepper album: it has a poignant atmosphere all of its own. The highlights take up half of the album: ‘Miss Who’ (answer: Miss Brown), ‘Lover come back to me’ (a definitive version), and the unique and unforgettable ‘Mambo Koyama’.