Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ken Peplowski: Noir Blue

Capri Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.5.10
Buy CD: Noir Blue

Ken Peplowski could be considered a musical anachronism; he's one of very few reed players whose primary instrument is the clarinet.

During the reign of the big bands, that "horn" ruled because of artists like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, but today you can count the musicians who excel on clarinet on the fingers of one hand. Peplowski and Eddie Harris are the two archetypes.

Peplowski began to play as a youngster with his brother's polka band, but after just one year of college he joined the re-formed Tommy Dorsey orchestra, which was led by Buddy Morrow at that time. Sonny Stitt, with whom Peplowski studied, introduced him to the tenor sax and the bop genre.

In 1984, Benny Goodman came out of retirement and hired Peplowski for a tenor sax chair. In this album, he uses both the clarinet and tenor sax.

Readers who lived through the swing era will note that Peplowski's style is strongly related to that genre, and he swings like crazy.

The quartet featured on this album includes pianist Shelley Berg, bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Joe LaBarbara: all excellent. The 10 tracks include covers of tunes by Irving Berlin, Ray Noble, Ellington/Strayhorn, Jerome Kern and Hoagy Carmichael, along with originals by Berg, LaBarbara and Peplowski. All are polished examples of swing at its best.

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