One of the standout reissues of the past year, this is chock full of chops from the master altoist, along with a stellar cast of accompanist, including Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, Red Garland, Philly Joe Jones, Richie Kamuca, Wynton Kelly, Cecil McBee and others. The song list spans from the classic 1960 finger snapper "Smack Up," on which Pepper and trumpeter Jack Sheldon work out of a straight bop bag, to the sublime "Tin Tin Deo," a song recorded in 1957 that builds on Philly Joe’s percussive foundation and grows more impressive as Pepper takes the alto to the stratosphere.
The big 12-piece ensemble that shakes the rafters with 1959’s "Move," one of two tunes with Pepper on tenor, is superb, and the quartet with Dolo Coker, Jimmy Bond and Frank Butler that delivers "Too Close For Comfort" (1960) is equally impressive. "Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise," a gorgeous piece from 1960 played with Kelly, Chambers and Cobb on board, is followed by the 12-piece burning through "Bernie’s Tune" with the same roster heard on "Move."
"Mambo Koyama," a 1978 piece on which pianist Stanley Cowell is joined by bassist Cecil McBee, a very busy Roy Haynes and conga master Kenneth Nash, Pepper is heard soaring at his most impressive best, though the following track, "The Prisoner (Love Theme From Laura Mars)," cut in 1980 and fleshed out by strings and guitarist Howard Roberts, with Nash sitting out and Haynes replaced by Carl Burnett, is more subdued. The same ensemble’s take on Pepper’s "Our Song" is gorgeous. The epitome of delightful comes with the closing "Over the Rainbow," with Cowell, McBee and Haynes, recorded in 1978. Pepper never sounded so spellbinding. This is a 10-star collection highly recommended to those new to the magic of Art Pepper as well as to old friends.