Saturday, July 30, 2016

Pepper Adams on Regent, 1957

Despite the title of the only album Pepper Adams cut for Regent (a subsidiary of Savoy Records), 1957's The Cool Sound of Pepper Adams, the baritone saxophonist always favored a decidedly hard bop approach over the cool sounds of West Coast jazz. But no doubt the popularity of the so-called cool school at the time was what led the label to use that title. The disc is absolutely fantastic, comprised of four long tracks (none of them shorter than seven minutes) that offer ample room for lengthy solos by everyone involved, and the music flows freely and easily. Closely linked with the Detroit music scene of the 1940s and '50s, Adams was born in 1930 in Highland Park, MI, and went through a difficult childhood before finding his way in life through music. He played tenor sax and clarinet before settling on the baritone and eventually becoming an innovator on that instrument with a hard-driving style that set him apart from cooler practitioners such as Gerry Mulligan and Serge Chaloff. Throughout his long career, Adams recorded in countless different settings, from big bands to small groups, and alongside too many jazz legends to keep track of all of them. Some of his most satisfying collaborations include recordings with Thad Jones, Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson, Ben Webster, John Coltrane, and Jimmy Knepper, though these are merely a few examples among several other that could be named.

The Cool Sound is one of Adams's earliest recorded efforts, yet this quintet session cut in November 1957 perfectly illustrates his direct, powerful approach to the baritone sax and shows how starkly different his style is from that of better-known contemporary Mulligan. Accompanied by Hank Jones on piano, George Duvivier on bass, Elvin Jones on drums, and Bernard McKinney on euphonium, an instrument that is seldom used in a jazz context, Adams uses the four tunes as vehicles to prove that the baritone can be used in highly inventive ways in a bop context without necessarily having to take a trip out west. What's more, though the accent is on Adams's baritone, the generous length of the four tracks allows the rest of the band to shine as well, and McKinney's euphonium sounds surprisingly effective. As implied by its title, "Bloos, Blooze, Blues" is a blues-inflected melody that shows Adams is extremely comfortable playing in that idiom. The next two compositions (Barry Harris's "Seein' Red" and McKinney's "Like... What Is This?") pick up the pace somewhat and include lovely solos by all participants. Adams's own "Skippy" is a strong closer, based on an interesting melody introduced in unison by the baritone sax and the euphonium and then taken as an excuse for some colorful improvisation by Duvivier, Hank Jones (very restrained and elegant), Adams, and McKinney. The whole album is extremely enjoyable, one of those cases where the whole is indeed as satisfying as the sum of its parts. After a prolific career and some constant tireless touring throughout the United States, Europe, and other corners of the world, Pepper Adams died from lung cancer in New York City in 1986. His large recorded legacy is impressive to say the least and won't disappoint anyone who decides to dig deep into it—and this late-'50s outing isn't a bad place to start at all!

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