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Despite playing and recording with stellar names like Donald Byrd, Thad Jones and Jimmy Knepper, saxophonist Pepper Adams never hit the level of superstardom in the jazz world, but he worked steadily and was highly respected amongst both fans and peers. He was also one of the few who embraced as a lead voice the warm, deep, round sound of the baritone saxophone, an instrument that has sadly gone underexploited in the improvising community.
Not on this smoking live album, however. Recorded in 1972 and in the vaults until now, the two-disk Live at Room at the Top features Adams at the titular Edmonton club backed by the Tommy Banks Trio, with Banks on piano, Bobby Cairns on bass and Tom Doran on drums. Something of a traditionalist, Adams sticks to bop here – the rhythm section swings, Banks comps, and the leader follows his muse up, down, in and around the bluesy scales that are the heart of bebop and hard bop. That means boundaries don’t get pushed on “Patrice,” Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” or the tour-de-force “Civilization and Its Discontents,” as the group remains comfortably within the realm of what we now call straightahead jazz. But Adams’ playing is so engaging, the band’s accompaniment so sympathetic and the atmosphere so relaxed and collaborative that there’s no need for anyone to innovate here. Instead Adams and the trio simply swing hard, improvise indulgently, and almost casually bring the audience into the good time they’re obviously having. If you’re a jazz fan, you can’t ask for more than that.
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