Ken Peplowksi. Maybe September.
Capri Records, 2013. Ken Peplowski: http://kenpeplowski.com/
Ken Peplowski seems older than he is. A boomer whose love is swing in all its manifestations, he seems like a member of the older generation that experienced the transition from swing to bop, and likes the newer music but can’t leave his roots behind. This is a wonderful thing in an age where the newest is the best, and history is perceived as a trash heap. Maybe it’s his background. Peplowski started off as a teenager in a polka band in Cleveland playing tenor sax before moving into jazz and switching primarily to clarinet. He plays in all styles and all configurations, from duos to quartets to larger ensembles. This is his third album for Capri Records, having previously recorded several for Nagel Heyer, a pricey European label. It’s nice to have him back.
There’s a certain intensity to this album. Not that it’s deadly serious, but there’s a focus, a mood, maybe even a message that Peplowski is pushing. It helps that the entire album was recorded in one session, in about three hours, giving the whole affair a feeling of being a unified whole. It certainly sounds more polished than three hours would suggest. The group begins with the Irving Berlin classic, “All Alone by the Telephone,” done in a subdued frame of mind, with Peplowski’s clarinet playing the melody pretty straight. Much of the album is temperamentally similar, although more uptempo tunes and improvisation follow. “Moon Ray,” an Artie Shaw composition, is one such affair, and he gets in more of a cool mood. We also hear the other musicians more, with a bass solo by Martin Wind, followed by some piano by Ted Rosenthal, then Matt Wilson’s drums. The next track, “Always a Bridesmaid,” goes in more of a bop direction, with a switch to tenor sax. Peplowski was never one to be locked into one style--everything is grist for the mill--although I think his heart is still in swing, where the melody is king. In many ways he uses his instrument to sing, and so playing it straight is his strength, but he also shows that he can do most anything, as his choice of the Poulenc piece, “Romanza” demonstrates.
From there, he moves into renditions of songs by Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney, with a Harry Nilsson tune as the closer. “Caroline, No” (and all the longer pieces) gives the other musicians plenty of room to stretch out, with a gorgeous, melodic solo by Martin Wind. I’m not quite sure what the McCartney song is doing, since it only runs two minutes, perhaps acting as a segue into the brighter Harry Warren piece, “I’ll String Along with You.” But the brightness of the clarinet hides a certain sadness. Here Rosenthal gets his chance to shine in a sweet solo, and there’s a bit more interplay and trading back and forth between Rosenthal and Peplowski than elsewhere, all done in swing style. The Ellington piece is lively, with a bluesy, feel taken on tenor sax, all forward motion. I loved it. The longest and one of the strongest tracks is the Percy Faith tune, “Maybe September,” which has a noir feel that I find very appealing.
In his album notes, Will Friedwald suggests that Peplowski is a storyteller. I enjoy the stories he and the band are telling, and I recommend this album for anyone who thinks swing is a thing of the past. There’s plenty more to say.
Personnel: Ken Peplowski (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Ted Rosenthal (piano), Martin Wind (bass), Matt Wilson (drums).
Tracks: All Alone by the Telephone; Moon Ray, Always a Bridesmaid; (Now and Then There’s) a Fool Such as I; Romanza; Caroline, No; For No One; I’ll String Along with You; Main Stem; Maybe September; Without Her.