Art Pepper: Cherokee




Art Pepper (alto sax, tenor sax)


Saturday Night at the Village Vanguard (Contemporary C 7644)

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Art Pepper (alto sax, tenor sax), George Cables (piano), George Mraz (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by Ray Noble


Recorded: Village Vanguard, New York City, July 29, 1977


Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

One of the great challenges for the early bebop players was to maintain the same level of creativity at every conceivable tempo, from the fastest to the slowest. The great players (then as now) did this, while lesser players tended to stockpile phrases and patterns and polish them to a glossy sheen, substituting glibness for intrepidity. Count Art Pepper in the former group. Among the classic bebop saxophonists, Pepper is on a par with Parker, Rollins, and Coltrane in terms of going out on a limb. There's nothing remotely glib about his super-fast presentation of "Cherokee;" it's an exercise in constant risk-taking and inspiration. Joined by a nonpareil rhythm session (George Cables, piano; George Mraz, bass; Elvin Jones, drums), Pepper shreds on two horns—first alto, then following Cables' solo, tenor—interpreting the old bebop touchstone with an unvarnished intensity and spontaneous invention that few could match. A few finely-turned phrases turn up more than once, yet interspersed are episodes of remarkable unpredictability. Cables and Mraz are smooth and professional, as if determined to throw Pepper's vehemence in stark relief. Even the mercurial Jones pulls back, keeping time brilliantly if conventionally, allowing the volatile Pepper all the emotional room he needs.

Reviewer: Chris Kelsey

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