This 1960 recording sounds different than most of Art Pepper’s west coast school recordings. Standards here, show tunes there from his famous records. But Smack Up feels different. A long drug sentence at San Quentin loomed over the sessions. That probably didn’t help the general air of things.
Smack Up is a set of compositions of six saxophonists, among them Benny Carter, Ornette Coleman, and Pepper himself. They are spare, stark, and run on the outlier. Stabbing chords from piano and drums, and some wild playing from Pepper, and you get a set as different as chalk and cheese compared to + 11 and Meets the Rhythm Section. Driving it is, tuneful it’s not.
Special guest Jack Sheldon, trumpet is always special. He adds some nice harmonic touches and flourishes to Pepper’s virtuoso lines and lightens the load. When he covers the head, the ensemble between he and Pepper is breathtaking. They play as one.
The rhythm section has to be spot on and they are. They underpin melodies, sometimes in 5/4 — as Leonard Feather’s liner notes suggest, Pepper never played in 3/4 let alone 5! Pepper’s own “Las Cuevas de Mario” (in 5/4) trades some blows between melody lines. Listen to the opening of Tears Inside. They set the pace and don’t let up.
The recording can be a little raw at times. Not unmusical, just echoing Pepper’s style and attitude. Both Sheldon and Pepper are at the top of their game, trading twos and fours and getting in and out of oddly melodic and harmonic scrapes. When required, the recording is sophisticated. And for the most part, that’s what audiophiles and jazz lovers want from expensive vinyl reissues.
What you’ll also be paying for and buying into is something completely different as repertoire. Pepper chose well but it’s severely catholic of taste. Carter to Coleman (gulp) and back again. Louis and Ella it ain’t. Just be sure you know what you’re buying.
I love it. I love the energy and the brilliance of Art Pepper’s performances. On Meet the Rhythm section, he’s all gentleman, here’s he’s getting ready for the big house. The edge is there and doesn’t leave. You’ve been warned. For me, indispensable both as performance and recording.
1. Smack Up
2. Las Cuevas De Mario
3. A Bit Of Basie
4. How Can You Lose
5. Maybe Next Year
6. Tears Inside
Personnel: Art Pepper -alto sax; Jack Sheldon -trumpet; Pete Jolly -piano; Jimmy Bond -bass; Frank Butler -drums.