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June 2008

Howard Alden & Ken Peplowski
Pow-Wow
Arbors Records

How can two guys make music as powerful and dynamic what’s on Pow-Wow? To name but a few reasons: quick wits, an overabundance of chops, a mutual love of neglected material that reveals harmonic challenges, and, above all, the kind of telepathy that encourages both artists to rely more on spontaneity than occasionally arranged passages.

The 13 tracks boast all those qualities and more. You want neglect? Think “Very Early” by Bill Evans or “Who Knows” by Ellington, both with unexpected changes Alden and Peplowski love to feast on. Rhythmically, one shouldn’t expect the duo to attempt Dixieland, bossa nova or the jet-speed unison lines of bebop. Apparently their listeners can safely request anything. The bop is heard in the way-up Bud Powell tune “Tempus Fugit”; the excitement of Dixieland ensemble playing is captured in the ancient chestnut “Panama”; and a legitimate bossa syncopation permeates “Bossango” by Joe Puma, the late guitarist whose writing and playing deserve to be resurrected. Puma also contributed the title tune, based on the changes to “Cherokee.”

That first track deserves careful listening. While most of it is arranged, the jazz choruses provide astonishing examples of the rapport between Alden and Peplowski when they exchange fours, anticipating or echoing each other, then engaging in memorable counterpoint. During Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing,” Alden borrows from the same composer, adding to the overlapping contrapuntal exchanges with a touch of cerebral humor, interpolating “Anything Goes.” That’s not just multi-tasking—that’s musical chutzpah.

Originally published in June 2008
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