Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ken Peplowski’s In Search of… Finds a Groove

The cd cover of veteran big-band reedman Ken Peplowski’s new album In Search of… pretty much tells the story. Pictured at the edge of the sidewalk, playing his clarinet in the yellow neon light of a sepia-toned, twilit Downtown Diner in the shadow of downtown Manhattan skyscapers, this is oldschool after-hours music. With all but the final three tracks recorded live in the studio in a single take, there’s a comfortable familiarity here – you can hear the voices of the players as they respond to cues and solos – but also plenty of surprises. For the casual fan, it’s an album of spirited nocturnes; hardcore jazz types will be amazed by the liquid crystal clarity of Peplowski’s legato – what flows from his horn is rivers rather than single notes – and some unexpected tunes. Here he plays clarinet and soprano saxophone, backed by Shelly Berg on piano, Tom Kennedy on bass and John Hamilton (leader of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and his own trio, whose excellent 2009 album we didn’t exactly do justice to here) on drums. There are also three additional tracks with Greg Cohen on bass, Joe Ascione on drums and percussion and Chuck Redd on vibraphone.

They open it with The Thespian, by Freddie Redd, a lyrical ballad that jumps into doublespeed, piano and sax playing a double line before Peplowski’s soprano sax goes out exploring. The strongest tune here is Kennedy’s, Love’s Disguise, Hamilton’s hushed brushwork a clinic in good tast pushing the syncopated Cuban beat – as is Kennedy’s genial, melodic bass solo. More of those suspenseful brushes color an expansive, Romantically tinged version of When Joanna Loved Me; Hamilton’s warm samba groove, Falsa Baiana, gives Peplowsky a long launching pad for some boisterously tropical excursions. The relatively obscure Rodgers/Hart tune, A Ship without a Sail shifts rhythms back and forth to drive up the emotional impact;  the brooding quality of Peplowski’s clarinet elevates another showtune, With Every Breath I Take, far above its origins.

Berg has a couple of tunes here, a warmly summer 6/8 ballad that contrasts vividly with pensive clarinet, and a briskly comedic, almost dixieland dedication to Peplowski, who gamely plays along with the portrait of an irrepressibly good-natured guy who can’t sit still. And then Berg more than matches him for boisterous antics. The album winds up with an unexpectedly poignant take of This Nearly Was Mine, Berg adding suspense with some rubato solo piano as a bridge, and a tight bass/sax duo of No Regrets. The only misses are the Beatles and Professor Longhair cuts that end it; if you’re planning on using this as 4 AM wind-down music (it’s perfect for that time of night/day), either put those tracks somewhere else on your ipod or program the cd differently. Is this album a throwback to a better time and place? From a look at the cd cover, it’s hard to think otherwise. It’s out now on Capri Records.

March 25, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Ken Peplowski – Noir Blue

Most of what we like to spread the word about here is pretty edgy and intense. This is neither. In fact, veteran jazz reedman Ken Peplowski’s new album is about as far from noir as you can get and not particularly blue either. But it’s very smart – and the obvious fun the band had recording it is absolutely irresistible if you’re into this kind of stuff. Peplowski did his first gigs in a polka band in his native Cleveland, got his start in big band jazz as as teenager in the Tommy Dorsey Band, and was hired by Benny Goodman on tenor sax when Goodman came out of retirement in 1984. Since then he’s put out thirty albums as a bandleader – as he intimates in the liner notes to this one, he’s come to the point where he only does an album when he feels like it, not just because he owes one to the label, so this was inspired right from the git-go. The band on this one is oldschool: Shelley Berg on piano, bassist to the stars Jay Leonhart and drummer Joe La Barbera have a wise yet joyous chemistry that jumps out, track after track.

The album kicks off with a briskly shuffling swing version of Irving Berlin’s The Best Thing for You Is Me, scurrying piano cascades echoed by Peplowski’s boisterously fluid clarinet. A casually sunny take of Berg’s catchy Home with You hints at bossa nova, Peplowski blowing nimble clusters into a genial, laid-back Berg solo. Three of the tracks here come out of the Strayhorn/Ellington archive: Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies breezes along with a staggered tango beat on the pulse of La Barbera’s mallets; Multi-Colored Blue swings comfortably for over eight minutes and then comes up rousingly at the end, the title track the album’s standout number with its brooding, pensive piano matched by Peplowski’s blue-grey waves.

Hoagy Carmichael’s Riverboat Shuffle is reinvented as a sly slinkathon with a buoyant Leonhart solo, the first-call bassist for seemingly every A-list jazz singer out there showing off characteristic terseness but also also a propulsive drive that he doesn’t always get a chance to kick into on all those ballads. Love Locked Out by Ray Noble is a gently bluesy wee-hours ballad with Georgia on My Mind echoes. La Barbera’s If Not for You fits right in with its warmly catchy hook and bright solos from Leonhart and Berg and a briefly boisterous one from its composer, a formula followed on a romping take of Jerome Kern’s Nobody Else but Me. The album winds up on a high note with the considerably contrasting, rousing Peplowski original, Little Dogs driven by some strikingly uneasy tenor sax work. The whole thing makes for upbeat, fun listening for late nights and relaxing Sunday afternoons – if someone you know subjects you to elevator jazz, turn them on to this, they won’t know the difference and you won’t have to suffer anymore. It’s out now on Capri Records.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment