Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Pepper, Vol. VII and Neon Art
Art Pepper (1929 -1982) is the story, but an important subtext is his widow, Laurie Pepper, who, since 2006, has been expanding the saxophonist's discography with unreleased live recordings from the 1980s. At the time, Art Pepper was enjoying his comeback, which began in 1975 with the release of Living Legend (Contemporary), hitting its stride in 1977 with his appearance at New York City's Village Vanguard (The Complete Village Vanguard Sessions (Contemporary, 1977)). The period between 1977 and the saxophonist's death in 1982 included successful tours of Japan, where Pepper was very popular. Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. VII is taken from his 1980 tour of Japan.
Concurrent with this Widow's Taste release is the first of three special LP releases entitled Neon Art. These releases resulted from Omnivore Recordings' Cheryl Pawelski having sampled a performance of Pepper's funky "Red Car" posted by Widow's Taste as a free listen. A deal was struck slating Omnivore to release three volumes over the next year, going old school on neon-colored vinyl as 12-inch long-player records. Omnivore prides itself on an eclectic catalog and Pepper himself eschewed his music being pigeonholed making the pairing a match made in musical heaven. The music may be jazz, but it is jazz from outer space and it is great that there is much more to come.
Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. VII: Sankei Hall, Osaka, Japan, November 18, 1980
Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. VII presents Pepper's November 18, 1980 show in Sankei Hall, Osaka, Japan. This show was presented at the halfway point of Pepper's Japan tour, which took place between Pepper's appearances on trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's Mistrial (Liberty, 1980) and drummer Shelly Manne's Hollywood Jam (Atlas, 1981) and shortly after the release of his strings album Winter Moon (Galaxy, 1980). The concert was recorded using a cassette recorder and remastered by Wayne Peet, providing a sound that is surprisingly good for an audience recording. For purists, this is not soundboard quality, but it turns out that it is okay.
Pepper's set lists are typical of the period. "Cherokee" and "Over the Rainbow" are present as are Pepper originals "Landscape" and a very fast "Straight Life." Pepper's clarinet piece is "Avalon" (he often reprised his take on "Anthropology" from Art Pepper + Eleven (Contemporary, 1959). The real treat is perhaps the only live performance of "Winter Moon" from Pepper's with strings recording of the same title . Pepper is in comfortable company, making this concert a very good one indeed.
Pepper was touring with two of his favorite sidemen, pianist George Cables, who Pepper called "Mr. Beautiful" and drummer Carl Burnett, who Pepper greatly admired. Bassist Tony Dumas replaced Pepper's previous bassist Bob Magnusson, who had retired from touring to be with his family. Amply talented, Tony Dumas was not Bob Magnusson, a fact that glares when comparing the performance of "Make a List (Make a Wish)" here with Magnusson's on Art Pepper: Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. IIIThe Croydon Concert, May 14, 1981. But no matter, Dumas still adds plenty of swing to the festivities, making Pepper's working unit a fine one.
Cable's presence here steadies the more sanguine egos on this tour. The pianist was provided a solo spot where he played his ballad "Quiet Fire." Elsewhere, "Mr. Beautiful" provides only the most appropriate support to the soaring leader as he continued to work out all of his angels and demons, a performance practice he employed to the very end. Pepper's own personal goal was to become the greatest alto saxophone player in the world. Between 1975 and 1982, that is exactly what he was. Laurie Pepper, we the listeners owe you big.
Neon Art: Volume One
The LP Neon Art: Volume One finds Art Pepper appearing at Parnell's in Seattle, Washington on January 28, 1981. At first blush, we see that there is but a single piece on each side of the LP. How short memory is. The standard LP could accommodate about 25 minutes of music per side, but usually housed only 15-20 minutes. Pepper does his best to fill this available time. "Red Car" was first heard on Pepper's The Trip (Galaxy, 1976) released shortly after his mid-70s comeback, signaled with Living Legend (Galaxy, 1975). Pepper had not formally recorded since 1960, when he went to the studio for Intensity (Contemporary, 1963). The song is a rhythm and blues raveup that could have easily been found in David Sanborn's book.