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Ken Peplowski: Noir Blue

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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Ken Peplowski has much to say; not in the sense that he jabbers incessantly, as many men with horns (and embouchures for hire) sometimes do. However, in erudite and leaping ululations, and in warm, wafting glissandos he sings of the gaiety and sadness of life. This he does through clarinet or tenor saxophone, depending on the echo and longevity he wishes his harmonic monologues to have. An old soul, with a spectacular perspective on the past, Peplowski lives in a place called the "near future"; just close enough for him to cast shy, but frequent glances into the ever-present. His song is tinged with a glimmering shade of sadness, but as a wry epicure, he seems to always smile just beyond the wet guise of his reeds.

If all this seems contrary to a musician schooled on the waxed floors of swing, it bears mention that the Peplowski eschews unnecessary chatter and hollow garrulousness for meaningful tributaries of sound that always have a harmonic confluence with the poetry of melody and utterly surprising rhythm . He is a not-so-distant disciple of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, of Hoagy Carmichael and therefore Bix Beiderbecke. Not in emulating their music, but certainly in his understanding of the alchemy of sound that made them special beacons that called across the ocean of music. This is why he can hear and reveal in genteel manner a bolero once hidden in "Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies." Or where he might skip and swing with eloquent grace (including a quick wink at Charlie Parker somewhere in the middle chorus) as he romps through the "Riverboat Shuffle," where others might end up with a wild and loud rant.

On Noir Blue, which might well be something to savor for a considerable length of time, the clarinetist and saxophonist finds that he is closer to the deep azure of the Duke that otherwise imagined. Not that anyone is complaining. Ray Noble "Love Locked Out" and Strayhorn's "Multi-Colored Blue" come in complimentary shades of indigo, the latter an elemental lament with a deeply cathartic wail in its tail. "Noir Blue" is equally moving and inhabits the same realm and yet gives credence to the ancient belief that the blues is nothing but deep sorrow turning into joy—and at Peplowski's hand, seemingly turning on a dime if that. Such is his mastery of emotion and his ability to curve the air with feeling.

Peplowski is not alone in this wonderful adventure. Surrounding himself with a group of musicians who subscribe the identical point of view, he forges an alliance that can only further his joyous cause. Pianist Shelly Berg, bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Joe La Barbera are old souls too. They dive into the same well of emotions with Peplowski, plunging into sorrowing hues and bursting out; soaring into the bubbling spray of elation with him. Together they make the experience of Noir Blue something truly unforgettable.

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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