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Ken Peplowski: Noir Blue

Martin Longley By

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In his liner notes, saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Peplowski reveals that after hitting fifty, he had no desire to make albums that are going through the motions of record company requirements. Not that such bodies are lately in a position to demand anything. He now intends to make recordings when the inspiration is strong and when the circumstances align in an encouraging fashion. A major part of this disc's genesis seems to be the rapport that Peplowski shares with pianist Shelly Berg. Also on hand are Jay Leonhart (bass) and Joe La Barbera (drums), both of whom navigate the common ground with equal ease.

A flurry of piano/clarinet exchanges push the album underway on Irving Berlin's "The Best Thing For You." It's a fluid dialogue of short solos, delivered at a confident speed. Peplowski chooses clarinet for the first three tunes, soon going soft for Berg's "Home With You" and Ellington/Strayhorn's "Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies." The first has a vaguely pan-Latin mood, softly gliding while the second is gentler than might be expected, but still continuing the sensitive thoughtfulness. Peplowski's flute-like phrases are embellished by delicate-but-emphatic piano, as La Barbera's drums make their clicking curlicues.

Four tracks in and Peplowski brings out his meatier tenor saxophone, sounding like the DNA-tested son of Coleman Hawkins. Hoagy Carmichael's "Riverboat Shuffle" has a strongly nostalgic feel and the tender balladry resumes for "Love Locked Out." La Barbera provides "If Not For You," which is more of a bebopper, complete with his own climactic (and inevitable) drum solo.

A Billy Strayhorn twosome begins with "Multi-Colored Blue," the slowest slink of all, and by this time Peplowski has picked up his predominant clarinet. Berg implies a gospel root and the ooze continues through the title cut. The album is a well-paced entity, as "Nobody Else But Me" turns up as a toughened tenor swinger.

Peplowski penned the closing tune, "Little Dogs," inspired by Ornette Coleman. It's not as free as he seems to think, but this doesn't detract from its worth. There's more tenor with bite, but the breakdowns, exchanges and time-swerves suggest a significant degree of premeditation. It remains an atypical piece, though, and provides a fitting close to such a mood-swinging sequence. Peplowski has delivered another one of his perfectly poised examples of good taste. Fortunately, this well-behaved nature never leads to the good becoming the neutered.

Track Listing: The Best Think for You; Home With You; Bourbon Street Jingle Jollies; Riverboat Shuffle; Love Locked Out; If Not For You; Multi-colored Blue; Noir Blue; Nobody Else But Me; Little Dogs.

Personnel: Ken Peplowski: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Shelly Berg: piano: Jay Leonhart: bass; Jow La Barbara: drums.

Title: Noir Blue | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Capri Records


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