Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Reed Master in Person + Big Band Delight

On Saturday night, The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme welcomes the great clarinetist (and darned good tenor saxophonist) Ken Peplowski for an evening that will illustrate why the Cleveland, Ohio, native is considered one of the best "stickmen" around.  He started off his career playing in polka bands in his home city and discovered jazz in his teens.  While still in college, he was invited by Buddy Morrow to join the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and has been a working musician ever since. His credits include working with Mel Torme, George Shearing, Madonna, Woody Allen, Marianne Faithfull, Benny Goodman, and many others.  He studied tenor saxophone with Sonny Stitt and his style on that instrument reminds many of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster.

For the 11/11 gig at The Side Door, Mr. Peplowski brings a trio of musicians he has played and recorded a number of times in recent, including pianist Ehud Asherie, bassist Martin Wind, and the irrepressible drummer Matt Wilson. It's the band that is on his 2016 Capri CD "Enrapture" (my glowing review is here) so one should expect quite the eclectic repertoire, from Duke Ellington to Lennon & McCartney, from Noel Coward to "Fats" Waller.  It's a classy quartet with a splendid repertoire - chances are very good you will be mesmerized even as you are tapping your feet.

For ticket information, go to or call 860-434-2600.

Here's the title track from the CD mentioned above:

It's been four years since trombonist and composer Alan Ferber released a big band recording (the impressive "March Sublime") but he's not just been sitting around.  As a leader, he released a Nonet CD in 2016 and as a sideman, he's appeared on a slew of recordings with groups led by Darcy James Argue, Frank Carlberg, Brian Landrus, Miguel Zenon, and Paul Simon (among many others).

Late October saw the release of "Jigsaw" (Sunnyside Records), his second recording featuring his 17-member large ensemble.  It's pretty much the same group that recorded the 2013 album except that trombonists John Fedchock and Jacob Garchik replace Josh Roseman, Ryan Keberle, and Tim Albright (the latter two each appear on for tracks) plus trumpeter Alex Norris is the full-time replacement for Taylor Haskins (full lineup below).  Ferber is a such an intelligent arranger, making such creative choices for his sections, utilizing the great dynamic differences between the trombones and the higher reeds as well as Anthony Wilson's electric guitar.  Note how the medium-tempo ballad "She Won't Look Back" (composed by Wilson) builds off of the bluesy guitar intro and Matt Pavolka's melodic bass solo. There are hints of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" in the main melody and the supporting brass and reed phrases.  The solos are spread around from Garchik to John Ellis (tenor sax) to Rob Wilkerson (alto sax) to trumpeter Norris, culminating in a hard-edged solo from Wilson that slow fades with various players in counterpoint to the guitar.

There's something a bit awry at the opening of the title track, with the powerful alto sound of John O'Gallagher flying over the pounding counterpoint of Mark Ferber's drum (he's the leader's twin brother) while there is crazy looping noises in the background (could be guitar or synth).  Pavolka's electric bass begins riffing and, soon, the sections enter and they introduce the main melody.  The body of the piece is made up of the interchanges between the sections before O'Gallagher takes off on an amazing journey with the bass and drums using him higher and higher.  Close to the end of the 10-minute piece, the drummer gets his own spotlight with the reeds and brass riffing behind him.

That power and drive is also an important part of "Get Sassy", another bluesy "shout" that opens with trombonists Ferber and Garchik in conversation.  About two minutes in, the entire band enters with a "down and dirty" melody line played by the reeds and guitar (the brass joins in later on counterpoint).  There is a sense of danger in the chorus; soon, Wilson steps out in front for a raucous solo and, then, all the horns enter one by one to play his or her own solo. It's chaotic yet the rhythm section never loses its direction. One imagines when the band plays this piece live, the audience is u and cheering by the close.

The loveliest performance is "North Rampart", a ballad composed by the leader. It opens with a short brass fugue that signals the emotional depth of what will follow. The main melody is played by the reeds and brass with fine harmonies and counterpoint built in. Wilson takes the first solo; theres a "twang" in his sound but the blend of single-note runs and chordal phrases (played over the rhythm section only). John Ellis enters next. The reeds and brass play the emotional melody while the alto saxophonist swoops and darts around them (but make sure to listen to the excellent drumming).  The brass return at the end with Ellis continuing to rise above them.

One could go on and on about how delightful "Jigsaw" is to listen to.  The music is, at times, challenging yet the ensemble is so alive, the sound is so clear, the melodies rich, ripe with possibilities. If you enjoy the large ensemble music of Stan Kenton, Bob Brookmeyer, Gil Evans, and Maria Schneider, then the Alan Ferber Big Band will brighten your life perceptibly.

For more information, go to

Here's the title track:


John O'Gallagher (alto and soprano saxophones), Rob Wilkerson (alto sax), John Ellis (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Jason Rigby (tenor sax, flute), Chris Cheek (baritone sax), John Fedchock (trombone), Jacob Garchik (trombone), Jennifer Wharton (bass trombone), Tony Kadleck (trumpet, flugelhorn), Scott Wendholt (trumpet, flugelhorn), Alex Norris (trumpet, flugelhorn), Clay Jenkins (trumpet, flugelhorn), Anthony Wilson (guitar), David Cook (piano, keyboards), Matt Pavolka (acoustic and electric basses), Mark Ferber (drums, percussion), Alan Ferber (trombone, composer, arranger) + Rogerio Boccato (percussion on two tracks).

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