Ken Peplowski: Last Swing of the Century: Big Band Music of Benny Goodman

Jack Bowers By

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To the question of “why another album of Benny Goodman–style music,” the obvious answer is, “when it’s done this well, no other reason is needed.” Ken Peplowski, who like Benny is a clarinet virtuoso of some renown, assembled an all–star big band to pay suitable homage to his illustrious predecessor on Last Swing of the Century (which may or may not be accurate, as there are a few months left before we usher in the new millennium). Sure, the songs are shopworn and the arrangements wholly predictable, but they swing as wildly and as often as a hammock in a windstorm, thanks to the conspicuous talents of the band and its able–bodied rhythm section (pianist Aronov, guitarist Vignola, bassist Simon and especially drummer Capp). Six of the charts are Fletcher Henderson’s with three by Peplowski, two by Spud Murphy and one each by George Bassman, Dean Kincaid, Jimmy Mundy, Edgar Sampson and Gordon Jenkins. Recorded on the last night of a 15–concert swing through Japan in November ’98, the album covers a lot of ground previously traversed by Goodman and his various groups from trio to big band including Benny’s indelible theme, “Let’s Dance” (which all but compels an audience to do just that) and such perennial favorites as “King Porter Stomp,” “Moonglow,” “Don’t Be That Way,” “Bugle Call Rag,” “Memories of You,” “Get Happy” and the irrepressible “China Boy” (on which Peps and Vignola are awesomely in synch). Although Peplowski plays Goodman’s axe, he has his own singular means of expression, and chose the members of his band for that same reason — each one is a strong soloist who’s not there simply to recreate timeworn discourses but to add something fresh and persuasive to the enterprise. Their contributions are generally brief but effective, with cogent observations by Candoli, Woodard, Sandke, Bert, Robinson, Romano, Pring, Stuckey, Aronov and Capp enlivening the flavorsome bill of fare. Candoli is featured (with Peplowski) on “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” Romano on “You Turned the Tables on Me,” Pring on “Restless,” Stuckey on “Get Happy.” On “Moonglow,” “Memories of You” and “Goodbye” the leader shows his masterful way with a ballad, much to the delight of his Japanese admirers. While some folks may turn up their noses at a restatement of music associated with the King of Swing by one of today’s foremost Jazz clarinetists, others, perhaps more open–minded, may reason that it’s not only long overdue but unreservedly welcome. I’ve not counted the votes, but my wish would be that the ayes have it.

Track listing: Let’s Dance; Hunkadola; Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; King Porter Stomp; Moonglow; Stealin’ Apples; You Turned the Tables on Me; Bugle Call Rag; Don’t Be That Way; Memories of You; Restless; Get Happy; Sometimes I’m Happy; China Boy; Down South Camp Meetin’; Goodbye (65:18).


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