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Chuck Florence

Remembering Jim Pepper

"This is perfect music for the talents of Chuck Florence. Like Jim Pepper, he's a jazz warrior. You know what's coming and you know it's going to be hot, hectic and very interesting. This guy fills the air with sound like arrows and lead!"

Jon A. Jackson

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1 - Lakota Song  8:41
(Jim Pepper)

2 - Funny Glasses and a Mustache   9:01
(Jim Pepper)

3 - Ghana Folk Song  10:45
(Don Cherry - Arranged Jim Harvey)

4 - Witchy-Tai-Toe (Chant)   1:46
(Jim Pepper)

5 - Remembrance  6:46
(Jim Pepper)

6 - Mr. DC  12:18
(Don Cherry - Arranged Jim Pepper)

7 - Drakumba  10:55
(Ed Schuller)






























JAZZ UPDATE: Chuck Florence rides again

For a long time I’ve wondered about Jim Pepper, the Native American tenor player, who died in 1992 at the age of fifty. But there isn’t a lot of his music readily available. Pepper was definitely a modernist, a free player with a big, soulful sound. He toured with Don Cherry in Europe and Africa and he was a member of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. From the little I’d heard I had come to regard him as the best kind of modern jazz musician, a player grounded in the traditions of the horn but open to new influences and styles.

Now we have a sterling interpretation of Pepper’s Native American-based writing, as interpreted by a kindred spirit on tenor, Chuck Florence. Originating in Detroit (he worked with the Detroit Symphony, Brother Jack McDuff, and Mitch Ryder), Chuck now lives in western Montana, until recently on the Salish-Kootenai Reservation. I’ve known Chuck for a long time and he is one of those brilliant jazz musicians who doesn’t seem to need the hectic big city life to keep his chops au courant. I watched him on stage one time, guesting with Jack Walrath’s big band and he all but blew those cats off the boards. He regularly played with the marvelous pianist, the late Jaki Byard, at a jazz festival in Fargo.

Three years ago he fell in with Ed and George Schuller, who had worked extensively with Pepper. Ed had transcribed arrangements of many of Pepper’s compositions and he saw in Chuck Florence the ideal player to bring this music back to the public.

The Schullers on bass and drums, Nicole Kampgen on alto and voice, and guitarist Craig Hall (a Montanan), brilliantly support Chuck in resurrecting Pepper’s splendid music. I like Pepper’s "Lakota Song" especially, and his best known work, "Witchi-Tai-Toe." They also play a couple of tunes by Don Cherry, arranged by Pepper. Cherry was one of my favorite trumpet players, an exciting trumpeter who exuded enthusiasm and love for an amazing range of world music. All the players here are outstanding and this is music that jazz fans will want to hear again and again. But it is Chuck’s playing that thrills me. He is firey, but the fire is banked with his characteristic humor and intelligence.

The situation for contemporary jazz musicians has changed. If you’re not with one of the two or three labels that can still be called "major," you have distribution problems. Thanks to the Net, this situation can be overcome. We can take orders for this cd at this site. The cost is $15, plus $2.50 for shipping and handling.


The difference between Chuck Florence's first session as a leader, 1992's Home on the Range, and 1999's Remembering Jim Pepper may be a little startling, at least on the surface. Home on the Range is a fairly straight-ahead session, but listen closer and it's clear that Florence is a dynamic, adventurous saxophonist -- even when he played a standard like "Besame Mucho," he took it in unpredictable directions.

On Remembering Jim Pepper, he embraces that maverick sprit and runs with it, resulting in a rich, satisfying album that works even for listeners unfamiliar with the subject of the tribute. Pepper was one of the leading lights of Native American jazz, and he fused hard bop with R&B and Native American folk music. Florence picks up on each strand on this terrific record, which was recorded live in concert at the Myrna Loy Theater in Helena, MT, on August 25, 1995. In the liner notes, Florence affirms a quotation from Pepper:

"Improvisation... was not, for me, sitting in a row with ten other jokers playing the same thing. It was about expressing myself." That is the driving force on this record, and the entire band (drummer George Schuller, vocalist/alto saxophonist Nicole Kampgen, bassist/vocalist Ed Schuller, and guitarist Craig Hall) takes this attitude to heart. Amazingly, even when the music is at its densest -- and it can get quite complex -- it is never cluttered or overwhelming. In fact, it's inviting. Some listeners might find that the vocals and chants may take them out of the groove, but that's their loss, since it's part of a complex tapestry of sounds and styles that is a tribute not only to Pepper's musical aesthetic but to Florence's abilities as a musician and leader.                      -- Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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