the saxophonist " “He was, and is, an inspiration to all of of us who make a living ‘on the road’ – I’ve never heard anybody play with such amazing consistency as Sonny, through all kinds of settings.” In 1980, Peplowski moved to New York City and has been working ever since, playing all styles of music and playing it extremely well.
"Maybe September" (Capri Records) finds leading a group with Ted Rosenthal (piano), Martin Wind (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums). As befitting the Edward Hopper painting on the cover ("Gas", 1940), the music is often subdued. Opening with Irving Berlin's "All Alone by the Telephone", Peplowski's splendid clarinet imbues the melody with great emotion, sticking fairly close to the melody while Wilson supports him on the cymbals, Rosenthal plays short figures behind the melody and Wind plays counterpoint. The drummer is fairly subdued - to know Matt Wilson is to see personification of playfulness - yet, throughout this program, he makes sure the spotlight is squarely on the leader. Still, he dances gleefully on Artie Shaw's "Moon Ray", struts like a peacock on the old "country 'n' western" classic "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I" and deftly guides the rhythm on Duke Ellington's "Main Stem." His cymbal work is gentle throughout the first half "Caroline, No" (the Brian Wilson tune), a song that the leader "sings" on tenor saxophone; in the second half, he contributes fine floor tom work. There seem to be few hints of Stitt in his saxophone work, more of Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Paul Gonsalves (especially on the Ellington song) and a touch of Lester Young.
Peplowski's selection of material is certainly catholic. For instance, in between the country tune and the Beach Boy piece, he plays the "Romanza" from the Poulenc "Clarinet Sonata" as a duet with the pianist. He follows the Wilson ballad with a bass and clarinet duet on Lennon & McCartney's "For No One" plus the CD closes with another duet with the bassist, this time a sweet take on Harry Nilsson's "Without Her." The title track was written for the movie "The Oscar" and made famous by both Percy Faith (as an instrumental) and in a vocal version by Tony Bennett (the vocalist also recorded the piece as a duet with Bill Evans.)
"Maybe September" does, at times, feel like music for Autumn but there is also a good amount of playful interactions between the members of the quartet. Everyone plays well, with both spirit and sensitivity, making music that is warm and inviting, like hot tea or a glass of vintage port. Ken Peplowski possesses a wonderful tone on clarinet and a bluesy yet melodic breathiness on tenor saxophone. Kudos also to Martin Wind, Ted Rosenthal and Matt Wilson for their warmth and classy musicianship. For more information, go to caprirecords.com/artists/ken-peplowski.
Johnathan Blake, who is making quite a name as a first-call drummer, fires up many of the tracks. His driving, unrelenting, propulsion on "Goin' Out" is a treat and makes one want to dance (in the liner notes, Harrell notes the influence of James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire in his composing for the horns but you cannot ignore the funk on this track.) Blake is still fiery but more tempered on the energetic "State", allowing for the voices and saxophones to carry the piece. Escoffery unleashes an imposing solo that is followed by the leader's more restrained statement, all powered by the drummer's insistent drive. The drummer locks in with the bassists for the sensuous "Phantasy in Latin" which is notable for the 4 "voices" on the melody and Harrell's long solo romp. And, 'romp", he does, as he soars above the rhythm section with glee. The saxophonists sit out "Even If", a blazing r'n'b influenced dance tune with humorous asides in the trumpet solo, an appealing bouncy bass line and Ms. Spalding's lithe vocals in sync with the leader.
"Colors of a Dream" is another impressive step forward for Tom Harrell. Like his contemporaries Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Harrell is always "in the moment", rarely, if ever, looking back. Whatever he heard in his mind while conceiving of this project is brought to reality by his wise choice of associates. The excellent mix (by Dave Darlington of Bass Hit Recording in New York City) puts the basses in the forefront without sacrificing any of the nuances of the brass, reeds and voice. All told, these "Colors" stand out! For more information, go to www.tomharrell.com.