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Ken Peplowski: Grenadilla

Robert Spencer By

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Here clarinetist extraordinaire Ken Peplowski takes on some challenges: alongside his sidemen pianist Ben Aronov, bassist Greg Cohen, and drummer Chuck Redd, are guests Howard Alden on acoustic and electric guitars (on five tracks), Marty Ehrlich on clarinet and bass clarinet (four tracks), Kenny Davern on clarinet ("Farewell Blues"), and Scott Robinson on alto clarinet and J. D. Parran on contrabass clarinet ("Variations"). Ehrlich and Parran have played in recent years with Anthony Braxton, and are not quite the guests one might expect Ken Peplowski to invite to his recording date. But – here they are.

Despite the unexpected company, this disc is as genially pleasant as all Pep recordings. "Benny's Pennies" is a bright takeoff of Tristano's "Lennie's Pennies"; "Voce e eu" is a trip to bossaville. "Copi" introduces Ehrlich, playing as lyrically as...Ken Peplowski. He intertwines a few lines with the boss effectively, without a trace of dissonance. (Of course, Ehrlich plays like this often, just not always. Compare this with his work on standards in Braxton's "Piano Quartet," by turns sweetly lyrical and titanically hell-raising.)

"'Bye" is a quirky theme from Aronov that gives Peplowski plenty of room. "The Reconsidered Blues" is achingly melancholy. "Variations" sounds like Peplowski is improvising brightly over something by Webern. Full of angular modernist harmonies, this fascinating track makes one wish Peplowski had recorded a whole disc with Ehrlich, Parran, and Robinson. I don't know what Peplowski fans will make of it, but it is sweet enough, and certainly shows the leader's variegated abilities.

But all too quickly it is over. "The Soul in the Wood" is indeed soulful; "Palisades" is more of Ken's patented retro swing; "Indian Summer" is a playful romp with Alden; "Farewell Blues" is too brisk to get sentimental, and approaches outright Jelly Roll-ism; and "Cry Me A River" culminates another solid Peplowski date, leaving us to wonder if he'll venture even farther into the outer reaches next time.


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