Johnny Varro: Two Legends of Jazz (2008)
Traditional jazz fans are lucky because Two Legends of Jazz catches pianist Johnny Varro and clarinetist Ken Peplowski on an inspired day in the studio. Varro has a light, subtle touch and melodic gift reminiscent of Teddy Wilson. Co-leader Peplowski sets aside his saxophones for clarinet during the entire session, which is a treat because his older style, woody sound meshes well with Varro's bright, precise piano. Peplowski is as shrewd and savvy on clarinet as he is on saxophone.
The opening "My Baby Just Cares For Me" sets the tone for the date with a jaunty exchange between the two leaders. If catching these two leaders on a good day isn't enough, this session could be one of drummer Joe Ascione's finest performances on record. As usual, his brush and snare work are superb, and his extended solo exchange with Varro on "The Touch of Your Lips" is a lesson in taste and concision. Bassist Frank Tate lays the solid groundwork for this lively quartet. For the most part, Tate plays a supportive role, but traditional jazz fans should ask why so many sessions work out so well when Tate is on board.
Those unfamiliar with Varro and Peplowski have been missing out on two very accomplished musicians; equally, those not familiar with Ascione and Tate have been missing one of the best rhythm sections in jazz. Whether the band is tearing through "Out of Nowhere" or simply having fun with Benny Goodman's "Smoooth One," the music is confident and upbeat, presenting traditional jazz as a dialog of extraordinary musicians at play. Two Legends of Jazz is highly recommended.
Track Listing: My Baby Just Cares For Me; The Touch of Your Lips; Menina Flor; After I Say I'm Sorry (What Can I Say); It's Easy to Remember; A Smoooth One; Bluesette; You're a Sweetheart; Secret Love; Out of Nowhere; Love Locked Out; I Love You; Someday, You'll Be Sorry; Blues on 57th Street; The Way You Look Tonight.
Personnel: Johnny Varro: piano; Ken Peplowski: clarinet; Frank Tate: bass; Joe Ascione: drums.