Art Pepper, 1925-1982, was a drug addict, a sometimes convict, and one of the best jazz saxophonists to ever grace the planet.
He began his professional career at the age of 17. After playing in a number of groups and orchestras; he emerged as one of the leading jazz sax players of the 1950s. As a group leader he released dozens of albums during the next three decades until his death at the age of 56.
During 2012, Omnivore Recordings issues a series of limited Art Pepper vinyl LP’s of unreleased music. That material has now come to CD for the first time. Neon Art Volume 1 is the first of three releases.
The album only contains two songs but they stretch to 35 minutes. Both were recorded at Parnell’s in Seattle near the end of his life in 1981. He is accompanied by Milcho Leviev (piano), David Williams (bass), and Carl Burnett (drums). They formed a tight unit and according to the liner notes, it may be the only time this particular configuration played together.
“Red Car,” named after the first new car he ever bought, was originally released in 1977 but now returns in an extended 17 minute version. He was a west coast jazz artist who comes close to a bebop sound every once in awhile. “Red Car” also incorporates some funky blues elements into the performance. The extended length enables each musician to contribute a solo.
“Blues For Blanche” was originally issued on the 1980 album So In Love but here it returns in an 18 minute swinging extravaganza. Leviev’ piano work provides a nice counterpoint to Pepper’s sax. The length allows for a intricate ebb and flow to the music as the musicians explore all facets of the main melodies.
Art Pepper is a sometimes forgotten jazz musician but hopefully the three volume Neon Art series will beging to correct that oversight. While the album only contains 35 minutes of music, it more than makes up for it in quality.