Review: ‘In Search Of …,’ Ken Peplowski

DownBeat
July, 2011

As you might expect from a veteran who’s counted the likes of Benny Goodman, Leon Redbone and Mel Torme as collaborators, Ken Peplowski’s tastes run the gamut here from Beatles interpretations to torch songs to obscure ballads. But start to finish, the common denominator on his latest release is beauty, pure and simple.

The disc spans material from two very different sessions. Tracks 1 – 9 were recorded in February 2010 and are heavily influenced by the audibly symbiotic relationship between Peplowski and Shelley Berg, who also composed “In Flower” and “Peps.” The pair’s interaction plays out like a ballroom dance on “With Every Breath I Take,” as the clarinet’s steady lead gives Berg’s delicate piano work plenty of room to trace delicate, right-hand-driven twirls before dipping into the reed’s rich lower registers. They ultimately balance each other’s playfulness on “The Thespian.” At first, Peplowski breathes with such sublime analogue softness that every movement his mouth makes on the reed seems perceptible, while Berg’s tiptoe-ing fingers match nostalgic drum patterns. But the tune transcends its ballad beginnings, climbing into an up-tempo showcase for symmetrical concepts.

The final three tracks represent self-produced, unreleased material from 2007. Runs of Eastern-styled percussion reformat the entire album’s vibe on the George Harrison-inspired “Within You And Without You.” The spare but swinging “No Regrets” works its way into your head by way of your tapping foot. Finally, a unexpected duet rendition of “Rum And Coca Cola” hits the listener with Peplowki’s Professor Longhair-like agility and peerless foray into the clarinet’s upper register.

“In Search Of …”: The Thespian; Love’s Disguise; When Joanna Loved Me; Falsa Baiana; A Ship Without A Sail; With Every Breath I Take; In Flower; Peps; This Nearly Was Mine; No Regrets; Within You And Without You; Rum And Coca Cola (60:49).

Personnel: Ken Peplowski, clarinet and tenor sax; Jeff Hamilton, drums (1 – 9); Tom Kennedy, bass (1 – 9); Shelley Berg, piano (1 – 9); Greg Cohen, bass (10 – 12); Chuck Redd, (11), vibes; Joe Ascione (11, 12), percussion.

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