Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ken Peplowski, the king of swinging clarinet and tenor sax, looks beyond the mainstream on Enrapture

Ken Peplowski, an unquestioned master of contemporary mainstream jazz, has become synonymous with flawless virtuosity and teeming imagination on both the clarinet and tenor saxophone. Yet his talents as a shrewd bandleader and farsighted recording artist are heralded less often. On Enrapture, Peplowski - in league with band mates Ehud Asherie on piano, Matt Wilson on drums, and Martin Wind on bass - goes his own way as a leader, allowing his resourcefulness and taste, rather than stylistic restrictions, to be his guides.

Any recording that fruitfully makes use of the work of such disparate composers as John Lennon, Duke Ellington, Noel Coward, Herbie Nichols, Peter Erskine, Anthony Newley and Bernard Herrmann obviously isn't adhering to any hard-and-fast rules about swinging mainstream jazz. The album will be released February 16, 2016 on Capri Records.

Utilizing a working band comprised of players as equally broadminded and adept at elegantly weaving amongst jazz styles as he is, Peplowski places as much emphasis on varied repertoire as he does displays of musical ability. These four virtuosi, blending seamlessly as a unified and responsive ensemble, are also given plenty of room to display the skills that have shored up each of their individual reputations.

What continues to draw the ear, apart from the high caliber of the collective musicianship, is Peplowski's wide-ranging choice of surprising and effective material. "The Flaming Sword," a rarely recorded Ellington opus, provides a calypso-driven springboard for the leader's bounding clarinet, while the Harry Warren standard, "An Affair To Remember" offers up Peplowski's warm tenor draped in an easy swinging arrangement. The ballads "Cheer Up, Charlie," a neglected heart tugger from the Newley and Bricusse score for the 1971 film "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory," and "When October Goes" by Barry Manilow and Johnny Mandel allow Peplowski to demonstrate his magic on tenor saxophone. Coward's stately waltz "I'll Follow My Secret Heart," is transformed into a low keyed yet gripping clarinet showcase; John Lennon and Yoko Ono's plaintive "Oh My Love" receives a sparse and effecting treatment as a clarinet and bass duet.

"Enrapture," composed but never recorded by the bop era iconoclast Herbie Nichols, offers a sharp clarinet workout and fine turns by Asherie and Wilson; Peter Erskine's "Twelve" (an ingenious twelve- tone row based on Cole Porter's "Easy to Love"), presents an equally brisk and bright tenor statement amid captivating collective interplay. What may be the album's most eclectically left-of-center selection, "Vertigo Scene D'Amour," is drawn from Bernard Herrmann's haunting score for Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 opus, Vertigo. Peplowski's evocative clarinet captures all the mystery and doom-laden romanticism of that cinematic masterwork. Fats Waller's jaunty "Willow Tree," complete with suitably effervescent clarinet work, also features a nifty arco solo from Wind that contributes to the collective aplomb.

Enrapture is a vivid aural snapshot of a band ready and eager to be documented. "A year or so of sifting through material, a year or so of playing with these great musicians, and very little time in the studio; we really wanted to approximate what we do in the clubs," Peplowski says. "This is us, in as close to a live setting as one could ask for in a recording environment-every song in pretty much one take-we just like to capture the spontaneity and interplay of four people who enjoy making music together."

A native of Cleveland, Ken Peplowski has been playing professionally as a clarinetist and saxophonist since his teenage years. In addition to working with a diverse array of jazz luminaries and popular artists that includes Benny Goodman, Bill Charlap, Rosemary Clooney, Mel Torme, Howard Alden and George Shearing as well as Madonna, Woody Allen and Marianne Faithfull, Peplowski has recorded over fifty albums as a leader or co-leader and has participated on scores of recordings by other artists. According to noted critic Will Friedwald, "Peplowski sounds the way (Benny) Goodman might if he had kept evolving, kept on listening to new music, kept refining his sound, polishing his craft, and expanding his musical purview into the 21st century."


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