SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
Art Pepper – Neon Art Vols. 1 – 3 – Omnivore Records/ Widow’s Taste OVLP 26, 48, 49 (3 LPs)
Published on February 10, 2013
Art Pepper – Neon Art Vols. 1 – 3 – Omnivore Records/ Widow’s Taste OVLP 26, 48, 49 (3 LPs) – Recorded in 1981 in Seattle and Japan – all tracks previously unissued ****½:
(Art Pepper, alto saxophone; Milcho Leviev, piano on Vol. 1; George Cables, piano on Vols. 2 – 3; David Williams, bass; Carl Burnett, drums)
I have reviewed the Laurie Pepper issued Unreleased Art Pepper series of CDs and LPs (The Complete Art Pepper at Ronnie Scott’s) released on Widow’s Taste and PurePleasure. These previously unissued recordings are from the end of Pepper’s career, with some being recorded by fans in the last year of Art’s life. The fidelity has not always been perfect, though Wayne Peet has done a marvelous job with editing and restoration on some of the issues, which are basically bootleg recordings by ardent fans.
What has always been evident is the passion that Art brought to his performances at that time, a man on a mission to share his craft with an adoring audience (largely overseas). Art knew he was sick and his time short, yet he needed to pour his heart out in his music to connect with his audience, in a race to beat the grim reaper.
Most every time I complete a review of these lost treasures, I implore his widow, Laurie, to unearth more music to share with “Artophiles.” Laurie has been earnest to comply and the Pepper legacy continues to expand.
During the last year, Laurie has teamed with Cheryl Pawelski at Omnivore Records to release three audiophile records – two from a November 1981 tour in Japan with Pepper’s quartet of George Cables, David Williams, and Carl Burnett, and one from Parnell’s (a club in Seattle) on January 28, 1981, which substitutes Milcho Leviev on piano for Cables. Milcho was known for having a tempestuous relationship with Art, but he inspired some of Art’s best playing and their love for each other survived some possible creative differences. The team of Cables, Williams, and Burnett were in full sync with Pepper and as evidenced on prior unreleased material, Art was given full rein to blow with either abandon, or with precious lyricism that could bring a tear to the eye.
The tune list on these three records (each released on a different colored vinyl!), are quite similar to prior releases from this same period, but with Art you never get a rote presentation of any track, even from night to night. These new LPs are certainly collector’s items, both for their gorgeous presentation as well as the care of remastering by the famed Blue Note legend, Ron McMaster, who has assisted with so many initial CD releases by Blue Note legends.
Record collectors (myself included) love colored vinyl, and these three records have that added bonus as well. Most every track is at least eight minutes long with most being longer than ten minutes, with “Make a List” approaching twenty five minutes. The extended length lets Art really stretch out with the rhythm section having time for strong statements as well.
Volume One has Art blasting away, occasionally honking, and deep into the groove on “Blues for Blanche.” Burnett and Milcho are able foils for Pepper’s intensity. I’ve always dug Leviev’s pushing Art to the limit, and his bluesy lines here swing hard. Watching the red vinyl spinning on my glass turntable platter while the fellows are kicking in is a gas… (Immediately I also noticed the quality of the remastering by Ron McMaster as well, as the club experience is ably re-created.)
As I have mentioned in prior reviews of these previously unreleased issues, I never tire of Art re-interpreting “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Art’s intro on the classic tune before launching into the well-known theme varies each time, as a small tasty appetizer precedes the awaited entrée. While laying out the theme on November 13, 1981 in Sapporo, George Cables’ accompaniment is exquisite and tender as Pepper’s lovely choruses. In my opinion, nobody backed Art any better on a ballad than George Cables.
An added bonus on “Rainbow” is David Williams’ warm bowed bass solo before Art steps back in. “Allen’s Alley” follows from a November 24, 1981 Tokyo concert, and Pepper’s bop roots are displayed. Cables and Burnett match the frenetic pace.
Two favorites on Vol. 3 are Side Two’s “Everything Happens to Me” and “Arthur’s Blues.” Both recorded within five days of each other in mid-November 1981, have the winning combination of Art emoting seemingly on the fly as he lets his inner mood flow in improvisatory thought. Cables does much the same in an effortless manner, while Williams lays down the bass line with Burnett softly comping. Pepper digging into some straight blues such as on “Arthur’s Blues” is always special, as he rips off one blues chorus after another with aplomb.
My only quibble (easily remedied) with the three albums is that no album liner sleeves are provided, probably to show off the colored vinyl. I’ll be looking for some clear plastic/Mylar sleeves to protect the cool virgin vinyl. My quibble is more than balanced out by the fact that a digital download card is included with each LP.
These LPs are available through Omnivore Recordings, Widow’s Taste Music links, or CD Baby. For fans of Art, you know you want them… (Oh Laurie, once again we’ll be ready soon for more unreleased Art.) [This set really doesn’t quite achieve audiophile levels but since we have all the vinyl together in this section now, here it is…Ed.]
Side One: Red Car (16:53)
Side Two: Blues For Blanche (17:56)
Side One: Mambo Koyama (18:38)
Side Two: Over the Rainbow (14:38), Allen’s Alley (9:17)
Side One: Make a List (Make a Wish) (24:39)
Side Two: Everything Happens to Me ((8:34), Arthur’s Blues (10:27)