Friday, October 10, 2014

Motor City Scene

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Pepper Adams' seventh date as a leader, Motor City Scene, has been reissued on CD and vinyl by Bethlehem. It's great to hear the music again, especially since I only have it on LP and my turntable is broken.

I don't know for sure if the tune order is the same as the original LP release, but it's surely the same as the 1976 LP reissue Stardust. As with Stardust, this date is wrongly billed as co-led by Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams (though their band at that time was indeed co-led). Thankfully, some of the original liner notes have been added, and these comments suggest that the original date was indeed Pepper's. (Not sure why there's a drawing of a baritone horn in the booklet, however.) Pepper's two originals, Libbecio and Philson, further support Adams as leader, since the Byrd-Adams Quintet, throughout its four-year tenure, almost exclusively played only originals by Byrd and Duke Pearson--never Adams--other than a few standards and some notable exceptions (such as two by Walter Davis Jr).

As for the tune order, it's strange to start a date with a 10-minute ballad, especially one in which the leader lays out. Solos on Bitty Ditty are played as blues choruses (something composer Thad Jones himself did on one of his recordings), but not over the tune's changes, as Tommy Flanagan nor Miles Davis recorded it. That's slightly odd, since there's only five tunes and one (Philson) is an 11-minute blues. It suggests that there was additional material recorded, though the label says no alternates or additional material exist.

Those who have read about this session in my book (Pepper Adams' Joy Road, pages 107-108) know that this was a controversial date. For one thing, Adams wasn't paid, probably due to the label going bankrupt. Additionally, Adams wrote dynamics for both horns and guitar as the front line, but the recording engineer evened out the volume level, denuding Pepper's arrangement. Pepper was still annoyed about it 24 years later, when I discussed it with him.

I know Stardust, Bitty Ditty, and Pepper's two originals quite well, but hearing Errol Garner's Trio again
--with Burrell's beautiful comping--is somewhat of a wonderment. This could've made a much better, sprightly opener, and , appropriately enough, Pepper takes the first solo. 

Libeccio is an early Pepper Adams mambo masterpiece that is starting to gain currency among some New York musicians. Louis Hayes' drumming is brilliant here!

This all-Detroit band--Adams, Byrd, Burrell, Flanagan, Paul Chambers, and Louis Hayes--plays beautifully. Pepper Adams was a fully formed, magnificent soloist by 1960, and Byrd's playing is some of the very best of the period. You can hear these top-flight Detroit homies in all their November, 1960 splendor on this wonderful, often overlooked date. The phrasing is just perfect and you can't get a better a rhythm section!

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