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Smack Up (Remastered)

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Album Review

While not the last to be issued — a distinction belonging to the uniformly brilliant Intensity (1960) — this title was the final recording Art Pepper (alto sax) documented prior to his lengthy incarceration(s) stemming from an addiction to heroin. In fact, his arrest came quite literally hours after the conclusion of the October 25, 1960 sessions. Remarkably, his personal demons rarely (if ever) dissipated his talents or resulted in less than enthusiastic recordings. Nowhere is proof more readily available than on these sides, which project Pepper at the peak of his craft. "Smack Up" is a cover of Harold Land's intense melody, establishing the entire quintet of Jack Sheldon (trumpet), Pete Jolly (piano), Jimmy Bond (bass), and Frank Butler (drums). As they deftly maneuver through, Jolly holds the rhythm section together behind Pepper and Sheldon. Although comparatively brief, the pianist's solo forebears the essential and contrasting textures that Jolly consistently provides. The five/four time signature of "Las Cuevas de Mario" is reminiscent of Dave Brubeck, as the blues-infused tune wafts between a buoyant riff from Jolly. The tasty chord progressions prime Pepper and Sheldon to trade a few counterbalancing phrases. The jumping "Bit of Basie" is an extension of a 12-bar blues, unraveling into an ample playground for Jolly, Bond, and Butler — all of whom rally around the soloists. Butler's instantaneous interjections are also worth particular mention here. "How Can You Lose" is a tip of the sax to one of Pepper's earliest supporters, Benny Carter. This reading is almost cautionary, predicating Pepper's imminent fate, as is the resigned intonation of Sheldon's muted trumpet. "Maybe Next Year" is a gem, allowing the combo to vacillate from the hard bop heard on the majority of the LP. There is a stately sophistication in the intermittently twisting melody perfectly suited to Jolly's refined phrasing. Ornette Coleman's "Tears Inside" returns the band to a lively setting, with Jolly and Bond beaming in their collective support. J.R. Monterose's "Solid Citizens" is presented in two takes. Bond's infectious boogie woogie immediately establishes the tenure while Pepper wails over the top of the compact score. Perhaps owing to the song's stylistic variation, it was not considered appropriate for the initial release of Smack Up (1961). What most immediately stands out is the apparent difficulty that Pepper encounters with the development of his contributions. Bond and Butler hold down the fort with his impermeable backbeat swinging from tip to tail. When removed from the album's context, "Solid Citizens" may be the proverbial "one that got away." [This remastered edition contains bonus tracks.]

Customer Reviews

Peerless Pepper, Smack Up and Jack's Up

After hearing "The Curtis Counce Group" I was looking for more of the same. Harold Land's not on this one (though his tune supplies the title of the date), and Carl Perkins had succumbed (at the age of 29) to the habit that would land Pepper in the pen shortly after this date. But Jack Sheldon is in his prime (I'm not one who regards his later, fuller but more generic, sound as an improvement), a superior, more personal, version of Chet Baker. Frank Butler, the world's most underrated drummer, is also on the date. And as usual, Pepper makes us miss the truly inimitable voices of his instrument. His sound may not be "fashionable" to today's players, who mistake volume, fatness, and technique for "voice," and in the process end up sounding the same. And the emotion is "real"--not more sound and fury signifying nothing.


"How Can You Lose" and "Las Cuevas de Mario" are delicious.

Smack Up (Remastered), Art Pepper Quintet
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