Art Pepper – Intensity

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  • Outstanding sound throughout for this Contemporary pressing with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides
  • Intensity is right — this is some seriously good sounding alto saxophone led quartet jazz, thanks to Roy DuNann and Lester Koenig
  • The musicianship here is top notch and Pepper’s playing is inspired throughout.
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Pepper was just starting to show the influence of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman in his style, freeing up his playing and displaying a greater intensity during his improvisations.”

An outstanding copy that reminded us just how great this album can be when you have a copy like this one!

I can’t recall a more DYNAMIC Contemporary. Pepper’s sax gets seriously LOUD in some passages. This is very much a good thing. Not only is he totally committed to the music, but the engineers are getting that energy onto the record so that we at home can feel the moment to moment raw power of his expression. (Pepper was famous for saying that his playing is best when he just plays whatever he feels in the moment, and this record is the best kind of evidence for the truth of that statement.)

Of course, since this is a Roy Dunann recording, all the tubey magical richness and sweetness are here as well, but what is surprising is how transparent, spacious and clear the sound is. Some of Roy’s recordings can sound a bit dead (recording in your stockroom is not always the best for spaciousness) and sometimes are a bit thick as well. Not so here. But it should be pointed out that we liked what we heard from a previous shootout too.

Last time around we wrote:

“This record has superb sound: you can actually hear the keys clacking on the man’s alto. And that sort of detail does not come at the expense of phony brightness as it would with your typical audiophile recording. The tonality of the sax, drums, and bass are right on the money, exactly the way we expect Roy DuNann’s recording to be.”

Both sides here were among the VERY BEST we have heard for this album. It was a thrill to hear that kind of MASTER TAPE SOUND for a classic Pepper session. By the time this LP was released Pepper was serving a long prison sentence due to his addiction to heroin.

What the Best Sides of Intensity Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1963
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

What We’re Listening For on Intensity

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The instruments aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

The Players

  1. Art Pepper – alto saxophone
  2. Dolo Coker – piano
  3. Jimmy Bond – bass
  4. Frank Butler – drums

TRACK LISTING

Side One

I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me
I Love You
Come Rain Or Come Shine
Long Ago (And Far Away)

Side Two

Gone With The Wind
I Wished On The Moon
Too Close For Comfort

AMG 4 ½ Star Review

Intensity was the final album of altoist Art Pepper’s early period and was released when he was already serving a long prison sentence due to his addiction to heroin. Assisted by pianist Dolo Coker, bassist Jimmy Bond, and drummer Frank Butler, Pepper was just starting to show the influence of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman in his style, freeing up his playing and displaying a greater intensity during his improvisations.

Ironically, Pepper sticks to swinging standards such as “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me,” “Gone with the Wind,” and “I Wished on the Moon” as points of departure on this interesting and largely enjoyable set. Excluding a 1973 recording with Mike Vax’s big band, it would be 15 years before Art Pepper led another record date in the studios.