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Impressions: Art Pepper Arrives in Double DSD!

01-21-2016 | By David W. Robinson | Issue 83


In the world of Jazz, there are the greats, the near greats, the great-but-obscure, and the close-but-no-cigar. It's easy (but contentious!) to list the obvious first tier…my own list, in no particular order, would have artists like Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Nat King Cole, Charles Mingus, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Theolonius Monk, Ornette Coleman, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, and on and on and on….

Compiling a list is hard work, and requires a degree of passion and experience. I enjoy a good best-of list…they can be very educational…but list wars don't interest me at all.

While he might not be on a person's list of the top ten, Art Pepper was certainly a well-known member of the "West Coast" school of Jazz after World War II. Rambunctious from his youth, and constantly wrestling with addictions to alcohol and drugs, Art Pepper nevertheless produced a library of recordings that is impressive to behold. He was lead or sideman on dozens of recordings from 1951 until his death in 1982.

In the continuum of Jazz sax players, I'd put his style more on the lyrical side of things…closer to a Stan Getz, say, than John Coltrane or (especially) Ornette Coleman. Pepper is more melodic, more poetic, to my ears. This doesn't necessarily mean that he was the greater artist; on the contrary, the significance of Coltrane or Parker or Coleman cannot be gainsaid…but it does mean that he'll match your mood at times when the others might not.

Art Pepper has been out in various formats over the years…LP, of course, but also including SACD in the early 2000's. Analogue Productions did some work with his discography early on with their SACD releases, and the well-known album Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section is also available in Single DSD download.

The great news is the Chad Kassem and the gang over at SuperHirez.com have done us all a big favor by producing two albums by Art Pepper in Double DSD:  New York Album and So In Love. (Chad has also released The Intimate Art Pepper, but this title is in Single DSD, from the SACD master transfer that Kevin Gray, Steve Hoffman, and Analogue Productions did back in 2003). These are all albums from the further side of Art's career, recorded in 1979, just a few years before he passed away. And they are all special, each in its own way.

The transfers to Double DSD were done by Gus Skinas, the Mastering Master himself. He did flat transfers…straight, no chaser!...from the original stereo master mix. These were produced from the original multi-track tapes by Rik Pekkonen and John Koenig. This is about as good as it gets when it comes to getting a sure-fire known-righteous provenance on the source for a DSD download. Purchase with confidence on these!

Playback System


I listened to these two Art Pepper Double DSDs using the following system:

  • Workstation = Media Center 21 on a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion 8 Windows 10 Pro notebook with an i7 processor, 8 GB RAM, and 480 GB solid-state drive
  • Server = Dell Precision T7600 Workstation with dual 6-core i7 processors, 64 GB ECC RAM, internal 3 TB RAID 1 array, Windows 7 Pro, and four 3 and 4 TB USB 3.0 hard drives
  • Dell 2808 Managed Gigabit Ethernet Switch
  • Synergistic Research Active Ethernet SE cable (from switch to NADAC)
  • Synergistic Research Grounding Block
  • Merging Technologies NADAC MC-8 8-channel Quad DSD DAC, in stereo mode
  • Synergistic Research MiG 2.0 Isolation Devices with HFT
  • Stillpoints ESS Reference Rack with Grid Shelves and Ultra 5 Isolation Feet
  • TIDAL Presencio Reference Preamp stack, including Phonodeck, Linedeck (used in this project), and Powerdeck


The Kubala-Sosna XPander Power Distribution Unit on its grid shelf on the Stillpoints ESS Reference Rack

  • Kubala-Sosna XPander Power Distribution Unit
  • TIDAL Impulse Reference Monoblock Amps
  • TIDAL Agoria Loudspeakers
  • Cabling by Kubala-Sosna (Elation! power cables and XLR interconnects) and Purist Audio Dominus 20A power cables (x 2 for the monoblocks)


The Merging Technologies NADAC MC-8 Quad DSD DAC on the Stillpoints ESS Reference Rack


The TIDAL Presencio Reference Preamp stack:  From top, the TIDAL Presencio Phonodeck with three inputs; the TIDAL Presencio Linedeck Line-Level Preamp; and the TIDAL Presencio Powerdeck external power supply…looks ravishing, sounds splendid!

The Music and the Sound…

Pepper's New York Album, released on Original Jazz Classics (OJC), is a key recording for coming to grips with his unique signature in Jazz. His ensemble included the man himself on alto sax, Hank Jones on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Al Foster on drums. It's a great group, and the results are superb…no surprise a-tall there.

The first cut, "A Night in Tunisia," is a particular favorite of mine. Blakey's Jazz Messengers hit this one out of the park years ago, but Art Pepper and company are no slouches, either. The tempo is driving, with all members of the ensemble driving hard to put together a memorable performance. Art is bopping, but there's a lyrical sense to even his most hard-on moments. The second track, "Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)" is a solo take. Sax solos are tough to pull off...you've got to sustain the emotional connection all by yourself…but Art makes you feel the soul behind the instrument.

The third track, the classic "Straight, No Chaser (Alternate Take)" has a completely different feel than listening to Theolonius doing the deed. (For an exceptional experience with the Monkmeister on this song, check out the Impex Records LP reissue of Monk's Straight, No Chaser. It's the bomb!) The ensemble does another driving, chop-ridden performance, lively as hell. No dull moments here…it really got my head noddin' and my toe a-tappin', which is always a good sign.

The fourth cut, "Duo Blues," takes things down to a moody blues groove, with just a twosome in action. Between Art on sax and Ron Carter on bass, you get a soulful move inwards. The dialog between them is so easy, so relaxed, and so effortless that you just melt into the music. Turn down the lights on this one…sit back, and mellow out. The final cut, "My Friend John," is an extended 10+ minute performance that ratchets things back up into a swinging bop. The whole mood shifts from introspection to full-ahead Jazzic flight, with Art and Hank Jones in particular lighting the place up. Ron Carter lays down a hammerin' bass, with Al Foster keeping the percussives flowing. What a knock-out way to end a great album!


Pepper's So In Love, recorded in the same general time frame as New York Album, and released by Artists House, is another tour de force by Art Pepper. Using backing groups from both the East and West coasts, Pepper put together another five-song set that shows off his saxy prowess and mastery with some highly talented Jazzic folks, arranged in two groups. The first was with the East Coast team of pianist Hank Jones, bassist Ron Carter, and versatile drummer Al Foster, as in New York Album. This group shows itself to be mellower, more deliberate, and more introspective (for example, in the fourth track, "Diane"). The second ensemble featured the West Coast team of pianist George Cables, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Billy Higgins, which is much more the all-in jump. (You'll likely be able to hear what group did which tracks.)

There are no weaknesses in this album, and any Jazz lover would delight in the five songs given the special Art Pepper treatment. Despite the fact that two different sets of musicians are in play here, Art is at home in either rhythmic camp:  Smooth and mellow in "Diane" or "Stardust," or hot and driving in hot pursuit in "Straight, No Chaser," (this is the main take, as opposed to the alternate in New York Album) and "So In Love," or in the betwixt zone of the medium cool "Blues for Blanche."  

Throughout, Art's ability to provide center, point, and counterpoint in various rhythms and moods is really striking to me. The more that you listen (and I have, many times), the more that you enter into the worlds that this album puts on the banquet table in front of you, and the more that you realize the genius of the artist.

Both of these albums are amazing work, and belong in the libraries of any halfway serious Jazz lover. On the music value alone, count me in.

Sonically, the transfers that Gus Skinas did for Analogue Productions and SuperHirez.com are exceptional. The TIDAL system that we have in place right now (review in the spring) is extremely transparent, dynamic, and nuanced in its ability to present recordings from any format in incredible detail, and with effortless musicality. Damned impressive, that. As a result, the Double DSDs of these two albums are crystalline in musical presentation, and show that Double DSD is a real sweet spot in the space vs. audio quality trade-off. The additional bump in fidelity that Double DSD provides leads to an experience of these recordings that is eerie…like listening to the master mix tapes in your listening room. Close your eyes…you can imagine a reel-to-reel machine sitting right there in your presence.

Isn't that what we want?

And so…?

Having listened for many hours over the past week to these two Art Pepper masterpieces in Double DSD, I've have no choice:  I've got to give them a real rave. Plenty of Pepper on these killer DSDs, and a "Very highly recommended!" from yours truly. Chad, Gus, and company have hit another home run with these new transfers of Art Pepper's brilliant work. Whether you listen to them on your portable DSD player, your desktop/personal fi gear, or a full-blown reference system, I think that you'll be delighted that you have Art Pepper in Double DSD.

Can you say, "So In Love!"? I can tell you that I am.

Dig Jazz? Buy these!

Price: USD $29.98 per album

To purchase Art Pepper in Double DSD from SuperHirez.com, go to:

New York Album is at http://store.acousticsounds.com/d/112227/Art_Pepper-New_York_Album-DSD_Double_Rate_56MHz128fs_Download

So In Love is at http://store.acousticsounds.com/d/112229/Art_Pepper-So_In_Love-DSD_Double_Rate_56MHz128fs_Download

 [All cover images courtesy of Acoustic Sounds/SuperHirez.com; all equipment photographs and processing by David W. Robinson]