Ken Peplowski: Easy to Remember (2004)
Clarinetist Ken Peplowski can be counted on for about one new record a year; it apparently takes him most of that year to decide on material to include on the next album. Peps has been a staple in the jazz world for quite some time, having debuted at age 10 in 1969 in his home town of Cleveland, OH, and toured with Tommy Dorsey's ghost band (led by Buddy Morrow) in the late '70s, before settling in New York. The rap on him is that he is the epitome of jazz traditionalism, but, as this CD demonstrates, that judgment fails adequately to recognize his adventurousness.
Here, supported by a superlative rhythm section, Peplowski has compiled a collection that ranges from Bobby Short's Caf' Carlyle rendition of the title tune to pianist Rosenthal's original "Good Old Days"; "Restless" (from Benny Goodman's book) on tenor sax to Paul McCartney's "Junk"; a revisitation of "Copi" and "Everything I Love" to Joe Cohn's father Al's "High on You"; and Cy Coleman's beautiful "With Every Breath I Take" to the serendipitous "Smoke Rings," with standards from Jobim, Lerner and Loewe, Strayhorn and Ellington to round out the program. Throughout its more than 66 minutes, the threads that hold it all together are Peplowski's innate musicality and impeccable good taste.
To my ear, the album's trajectory soars after Short's contribution; the old cabaret singer's spirit is willing, but his raspy voice is weak. Peps' tenor is breathy and Cohn's and Leonhart's solos, laid-back on a gently swinging "Restless." "Copi" is a lovely, slow jazz waltz for tenor, while Peps' introspective clarinet drips clover honey on "Every Breath." Jobim's "Louisa," suggested by Peps' frequent duo partner Howard Alden, is as delicate as a blossom, featuring delicious interplay between Peplowski's clarinet and Rosenthal's piano. A long, elegant, out-of-rhythm clarinet cadenza opens Cole Porter's "Everything I Love," clearly one of the high points of the album; the eventual addition of other instruments interrupts the reverie with almost abrupt suddenness, although the comfortable swing of the rendition, the beauty of the tune, and, in eight minutes, its thoroughness of exploration make the intrusion easy to forgive.
Peps' brief, unaccompanied solo on Ellington's "Single Petal of a Rose" seems to capture perfectly the Duke's intent; this to me is the album's emotional center. Nothing could follow it more appropriately than a Strayhorn ballad. Rosenthal's brisk original, remotely reminiscent of "Savoy," injects a nice change of pace, while Paul McCartney's pleasantly simple "Junk," wistfully sung by Kim Liggett, with Cohn's accompaniment and Peplowski's clarinet obbligato, provides some unexpected variety. The album concludes with a solidly swinging "Smoke Rings" and an up-tempo "High on You," taken with a samba beat; Peps switches to tenor for both of these.
Track Listing: It's Easy to Remember*; Restless; Copi; With Every Breath I Take; Louisa; Everything I Love; I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face; Single Petal of a Rose; Love Came; Good Old Days; Junk**; Smoke Rings; High on You
Personnel: Ken Peplowski (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Joe Cohn (guitar), Ted Rosenthal (piano), Joe Fitzgerald (bass), and Jeff Brillinger drums), with special guests Bobby Short* (vocals, piano) and Kim Liggett** (vocals)