Part of Omnivore Records' Art Pepper bootleg series, 2015's Neon Art: Vol. 1 showcases the legendary jazz saxophonist performing live at Parnell's in Seattle, Washington in 1981. Curated by his then wife and manager, Laurie Pepper, the Neon Art releases document one of the most creatively fertile periods of Pepper's career during the final years of his life. Pepper, who died of a stroke on June 15, 1982, was in the throes of a career resurgence during the late '70s and early '80s, having adopted a methadone treatment program to curb his heroin addiction. It was a problem that infamously saw him serve multiple jail sentences in the '50s and '60s, including a final stretch in San Quentin. However, his addiction also brought him to the Synanon rehabilitation facility in 1968, where he met and ultimately fell in love with Laurie. Under her managerial guidance, Pepper toured constantly and recorded a bevy of well-regarded albums. These tracks, recorded around the same time he produced So in Love, Arthur's Blues, and Roadgame, showcase Pepper backed by several of his most trusted musical associates, pianist Milcho Leviev, bassist David Williams, and drummer Carl Burnett. Having started out as one of the stars of the West Coast "cool" school of jazz, by 1981 Pepper had expanded his palette, incorporating a more outré John Coltrane-influenced style, full of urgent squelch and soulful grit, that nonetheless retained all of his earlier lyrical qualities. Together, Pepper and his band display a palpably intuitive group interplay that strikes a perfect balance between fluid melodicism and spontaneous, bluesy outbursts. Although Neon Art: Vol. 1 only contains two tracks (the roiling funk-a-loo number "Red Car" and the swaggering "Blues for Blanche") at over 15 minutes apiece, they reveal both Pepper's mature talent at building his solos with narrative-like structure and the cornucopia of musical ideas that seem to burst forth out of his mind and through his saxophone with an unhinged glee.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar