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Saxophonist Art Pepper, in good form, is one of the greats.

Music Review: Jazz Sax Great Art Pepper – ‘Neon Art: Volume One’

Neon Art: Volume One is a reissue (digitally and on CD) of the first of three previously unreleased Art Pepper recordings originally issued on colored vinyl by Omnivore Recordings in 2012. Recorded live at Parnell’s in Seattle in January of 1981, the disc offers up two extended performances, enough music to fill two sides of vinyl, of earlier Pepper compositions. Taken together they make for a rhapsodic demonstration of the saxophonist’s inventive powers. An on-and-off drug addict, in and out of prison, Pepper (who died in 1982) was rarely in better form than he was for the Parnell gig, and Pepper in good form is one of the greats.

His widow Laurie explains in the liner notes that she “chose this music of Omnivore’s Neon Art set because it’s ecstatic… Art and I shared an appetite for ecstatic experiences.” The ecstatic high from music may be different from that of drugs, but ecstasy is ecstasy no matter what it comes from.Neon art

Both tracks have personal meaning. “Red Car,” in this almost 17-minute version, refers to Pepper’s first brand new car, a red Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham. The song’s original release was on The Trip (1977) in a version running under six minutes.  Strong solo work from lesser-known pianist Milcho Leviev brings out the best in Pepper, in a strong performance that runs from a little blues to a little funk.

“Blues for Blanche,” Laurie explains, is an homage to the couple’s white cat, Blanche Dubois Pepper. She chose it because it always swung, and in Seattle it “swung hard.” First appearing on the 1980 album So In Love, the current version extends to nearly 18 minutes and features strong work from drummer Carl Burnett and bassist David Williams behind the brilliant Pepper alto.

Neon Art: Volume One is out now, but this is just the appetizer; there are two more courses to  come. Neon Art: Volume Two, with a set of three songs—Pepper’s “Mambo Koyama,” “Over the Rainbow,” and “Allen’s Alley”—is due out on March 10.  Neon Art: Volume Three follows on April 7 with “Make a List (Make a Wish), “Arthur’s Blues,” and “Everything Happens to Me.” George Cables takes over on piano, but the rest of the ensemble is the same.

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