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Always a meticulous interpreter of traditional swing styles, clarinetist Ken Peplowski pays respectful tribute to the Benny Goodman big band on Last Swing of the Century.
Peplowski played tenor sax in Goodman's last orchestra and admired The King of Swing both professionally and personally, so it's fitting that he should honor the great clarinetist on CD. Recorded during the final concert of a two-week tour of Japan, Last Swing is an exceedingly faithful tribute to Goodman.
Peplowski tried to avoid nostalgia with this big band tribute, but because he used the original charts written by Fletcher Henderson, Edgar Sampson and other arrangers commissioned by Goodman, the mood is decidedly retro. The CD will probably be viewed by some as a needless exercise in nostalgia, but it should please any Goodman fan.
Familiar Goodman hits "Let's Dance," "Moon Glow," Bugle Call Rag," and "Memories of You" are among the tunes covered. The arrangements of the faster tunes are spunky though somewhat anachronistic from a rhythmic standpoint. The slower tunes are unabashedly sentimental by 1999 standards, but they possess an abundance of romantic charm.
Peplowski intended that the improvised passages would lend Goodman's music a more modern air, but the solos here reflect few contemporary ideas. At least six of the 13 musicians in Peplowski's band played in various Goodman bands, and many are swing revivalists who favor a pre-bop approach. Peplowski himself sounds very much like Goodman, as his clarinet weaves around the elegant arrangements.
One could reasonably question why this CD is necessary since the Goodman originals are readily available. In Peplowski's defense, this CD documents a live tribute tour, and live jazz is always more exciting than recorded jazz. Preserving great music in a live setting is a commendable endeavor, and no clarenitist is more suited to this project than the brilliant Ken Peplowski. Benny Goodman's seminal swing lives on in very capable hands.