Along with 1957's Meets the Rhythm Section, which featured Miles Davis's band behind him, 1960's Smack Up forms the cornerstone of the altoist's first classic period. As the title may or may not hint at, Pepper would so... more »on after vanish from the scene, the result of heroin addiction and related prison terms. Buoyed by the presence of trumpeter Jack Sheldon, Pepper intently runs through six saxophonist-penned cuts (plus two alternate takes) from the books of the legendary (Benny Carter), the contemporary (Harold Land's title track, Buddy Collette, Jack Montrose, Ornette Coleman), and the obscure (Duane Tatro). His own blues "Las Cuevas de Mario" would become a staple of his mid-1970s repertoire (his second classic period). No matter what baggage he brought with him into the studio, Pepper always seemed to rise to the occasion. --Marc Greilsamer« less
Along with 1957's Meets the Rhythm Section, which featured Miles Davis's band behind him, 1960's Smack Up forms the cornerstone of the altoist's first classic period. As the title may or may not hint at, Pepper would soon after vanish from the scene, the result of heroin addiction and related prison terms. Buoyed by the presence of trumpeter Jack Sheldon, Pepper intently runs through six saxophonist-penned cuts (plus two alternate takes) from the books of the legendary (Benny Carter), the contemporary (Harold Land's title track, Buddy Collette, Jack Montrose, Ornette Coleman), and the obscure (Duane Tatro). His own blues "Las Cuevas de Mario" would become a staple of his mid-1970s repertoire (his second classic period). No matter what baggage he brought with him into the studio, Pepper always seemed to rise to the occasion. --Marc Greilsamer
An overlooked classic
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Art Pepper should be far more popular among born-again jazz freaks. This is a great place to start if you're unfamiliar with his work from the late 50s-early 60s period. I believe this was recorded between jail stints and he was pretty desperate--as he often was in the studio. Nice diverse selections and top-notch talent."
Samuel Chell | Kenosha,, WI United States | 10/07/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Many people have difficulty separating the life of the artist from the imaginative life of his work. When the life of the artist takes on mythic proportions, especially those accompanying Romantic self-destructive genius, the task of evaluating the art with any sort of objectivity is even more daunting.To my ears, Pepper's is an engaging voice on this session, alternately lyrical and cerebral, taking a few risks but quickly retreating. He hasn't made the commitment to achieving the "emotional moment" that seemed to characterize his work after 1975, making each of his solos a kind of epiphanic quest.Sheldon sounds bolder than ever on this recording, providing strong hints of the extroverted trumpet soloist he's become since the mid-nineties (his relative obscurity is a sad commentary not just on the music scene in general but the elitist jazz critics who declare who belongs in the church of what's happening now). Jolly is plenty nimble, but his left-hand voicings are pretty basic and his melodic lines fail to elevate the proceedings. Butler is still the world's most underrated drummer; without him, this session would have been little more than a period piece. Finally, Contemporary deserves some kind words. The miking of the individual instruments, the balance between the rhythm section and soloists, the attention to dynamic nuance (missing on the Blue Note recordings of this period) all contribute to a sound that, though recorded over 40 years ago, could have been captured just yesterday."
Jazzcat | Genoa, Italy Italy | 01/17/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This album is a very important example of the ending part of the first section of Art's career. I own all his later box set (Galaxy, Village Vanguard, Hollywood all stars) and a lot of his earlier albums. I think this one stands clearly among the two periods even if it has been recorded at the end of the first. He was no more the impressive shining alto player who recorded Plus Eleven, Rhythmn section or Surf ride some time earlier and the one who won placed second behind Charlie Parker in a 1951 "Down beat" polls (Smack up is from 1960). Here he played already different for what I can hear and compare. Slower, with a different sound. He had a slightly different use of space and ideas. You can hear they were not in the fifties no more. you can hear that the change of decade has changed the view of things for what I am concerned. Even if its not a blue note album absolutly not that kind of sixties sound here. It is still a west coast record from Art, but even if the program is still "fifties", blues and originals but in "that fifties vein" something had already changed. It's there, in the air, you can breathe that. It is a nice album, with very strong soloing from the guys and from the always splendid Art of course. It's a transition album in a sense. When we were able to hear Pepper again he changed again and was ready for his definitive come back and affirmation in the seventies which was a splendid period for him artistically. Even if I am totally in love with his albums from the full fifties. Sonically it is a very well recorded album, unfortunatly the cover its not one of "those" fantastic covers from the fifties."
Overshadowed by Intensity
Matthew Watters | Vietnam | 06/08/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Any other musician would kill to have made this record, but Smack Up always pales a bit for me because it was recorded back-to-back with the monumental Intensity, Pepper's last record before going into a six-year lock-down at San Quentin. It's hard to tell why this one doesn't quite measure up. Jack Sheldon does great work in the vein of his stint with the Curtis Counce Group, but, while Pepper is all conflicted feelings boiling under the surface, Sheldon is just on the sunny side. Drummer Frank Butler (like Pepper, one of my favourite musicians, bar none) is his usually fantastic self on both records. So maybe it's the material, which here -- with the exception of Pepper's own 5/4 "Cuevos de Mario" -- is a bunch of tunes by other saxophonists (not coincidentally licensed to Contemporary, shame on you, Lester Koenig), while on Intensity, Pepper gets to really dig into the chords of some familiar standards, undistracted by fellow soloists, and comes up with one of his most emotionally resonant records. Don't get me wrong: Smack Up is a great album. It's fun and it swings like mad and you can't have my copy. But it lacks .... Intensity."
Smack Up: Perfect title
Bomojaz | South Central PA, USA | 02/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
Art's second-to-last Contemporary album during the classic 1956-60 period, and it's consistently top-notch. The title track is the highlight, a real handsome Harold Land tune taken up-tempo. Jack Sheldon plays a lyrical trumpet when heard; unfortunately, he's not featured prominently here. Frank Butler's drumming is extremely inventive throughout. Pepper's playing is relaxed and imaginative, especially on the 5/4 blues LAS CUEVAS DE MARIO. Indicative of an awareness of Things To Come, Art even includes an Ornette Coleman composition in this set - TEARS INSIDE. Drug addiction was beginning to take its toll on Art's life, and it wasn't long after this date that he was busted and began a long jail term. This is an album anyone would be proud of, though."