Album Reviews

Art Pepper – Neon Art: Volumes 1 & 2

Artist:     Art Pepper

Album:     Neon Art: Volumes 1 & 2

Label:     Omnivore

Release Date:     02/17/2015


Renowned alto saxophonist Art Pepper was in the same conversation as Charlie Parker in the early fifties, the heyday of bebop.  As an early pioneer of West Coast jazz, Pepper was based in Los Angeles throughout his career, which was unfortunately often interrupted by prison stints stemming from his heroin addiction.  Pepper had a renaissance in the late seventies and early eighties, having adopted a methadone program before passing from a stroke in 1982.  His wife, Laurie, worked with Omnivore to get these previously unreleased live recordings issued in three volumes.

Neon Art: Volume 1 features extended versions of two Pepper originals recorded at Parnell’s in Seattle in 1981.  Trusted sidemen include Micho Leviev (piano), David Williams (bass), and Carl Burnett (drums).  His style incorporates elements of bebop, avant garde, and hard bop.  Pepper can be lyrical, soulful, and anguished in his solos and these lengthy tunes strike a nice balance between structured melody and improvisation.

Neon Art: Volume 2 delivers live recordings from three different concert halls in Japan in 1981.  The rhythm section is intact while George Cables is at the piano.  According to Laurie, “Art hated the idea that people put jazz in a pigeonhole.  He wanted to make people forget the categories and make them open up and listen.”  As this disc unfolds, you’ll appreciate Pepper’s diversity even more with his own superb soul-jazz “Mambo Koyama,” his gorgeous rendering of “Over the Rainbow” and the intense bebop of “Allen’s Alley.”  We are already looking forward to Volume Three, due April 7, which will highlight more from this 1981 tour.

– Jim Hynes

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