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Maybe September
Ken Peplowski

Peplowski has long been one of the elite jazz clarinetists of his time, although his ability on tenor saxophone could alone have easily sustained a career. One thing that sets Peplowski apart from many of his peers is his refreshingly eclectic repertoire, which is evident once again on this CD. The emphasis is on what Peplowski calls "heartbreakers," ranging from neglected standards to tunes by Brian Wilson/Tony Asher, Lennon/McCartney, Harry Nilsson, and Bill Trader, with a classical work by Francis Poulenc still yet another change of pace. Helping Peplowski's clarinet and tenor illustrate the suitability and substance in a jazz context of each and every one of these 11 compositions are pianist Ted Rosenthal, bassist Martin Wind, and drummer Matt Wilson.

The sadness exuded by Peplowski's clarinet intoning the melody of Irving Berlin's "All Alone by the Telephone" is indeed heartbreaking and truly heartfelt, graced by Rosenthal's poignant comping, Wilson's cymbal illuminations, and Wind's apt bass lines. This is 4:53 of straightforward but moving thematic exposition. Peplowski and company gently breeze through the theme of "Moon Ray," popularized by Artie Shaw, before the leader goes into swing mode, his darting and fresh lines entirely captivating. Wind, Rosenthal, and Wilson all have short, effective says of their own, with the drummer particularly artful in his expressive tonality on the skins--and dig his responsive banter during the reprise. Peplowski's "Always a Bridesmaid" (the title referring to where he always seems to place in the jazz polls) is an up-tempo bop vehicle that allows the composer's tenor and Wilson to engage in exhilarating interplay for the initial two minutes before piano and bass join in. Rosenthal contributes a frolicsome solo, and then Wilson again shows his skill at creating a musical rather than muscular improvisation. The fleet out chorus finds tenor and piano sailing off into the stratosphere.

Trader's "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I" was a hit for both Hank Snow and Elvis Presley in the '50's, and as Peplowski's clarinet warbles the likable melody, Wilson plays a tap-dancing shuffle rhythm in perfect rapport. Peplowski solos with rhythmic ingenuity, inspiring the drummer's spirited elaborations. Wind's exploration adheres closely to the melody, and is followed by priceless trades between Peplowski and Wilson. (This pop tune previously appeared on Peplowski's All This... Live in the U.K. album.) Peplowski and Rosenthal faithfully collaborate on Poulenc's "Romanza," the second movement of his 1962 Sonata for clarinet and piano, which was commissioned by Benny Goodman and saw its premiere at Carnegie Hall in 1963 as performed by Goodman and Leonard Bernstein. The enchanting, bittersweet piece finds Peplowski's clarinet taking on a refined, classical accent. It's a beautifully rendered gem. "Caroline, No" debuted on the Beach Boys' classic Pet Sounds LP, and Peplowski 's breathy, warm tenor sings the melody with sincere emotion. Wind takes the first lyrically compelling solo, succeeded by Peplowski's more aggressive and biting take, with its series of rapid arpeggios. Rosenthal's augmentation and Wilson's drum work are highly complementary and not to be overlooked.

Peplowski's clarinet basks in the baroque elegance of Lennon/McCartney's "For No One" (from the Beatles' Revolver album) over the track's 1:54 duration, with just Wind's sympathetic, deep-toned support. Rosenthal's glowing intro to "I'll String Along with You" prefaces Peplowski's lissome treatment of the theme, as well as his hurtling, buoyant improv. The pianist solos engrossingly prior to uniting with Peplowski for some seamless trades and counterpoint. Wilson's steadfast brush work provides unobtrusive additional momentum. Duke Ellington's "Main Stem" swings mightily from the start, with Rosenthal's solo evoking Duke in its phrasings and chords. Peplowski's tenor adapts a gruff sound in his quest, and that and his swaggering, nimble lines suggest both Paul Gonsalves and Harold Ashby.

Regarding the title tune, "Maybe September," Peplowski credits the Tony Bennett-Bill Evans version as his inspiration. Rosenthal's contemplative intro sets up Peplowski's touching tenor portrayal of the melody. Wind's solo again subtly elaborates the theme to winning effect, while Rosenthal's sensitive spot possesses the spaciness of Ahmad Jamal. The saxophonist has the final definitve say--varying his pace, inflections, and intensity--ahead of a gracefully fine-tuned reprise. Nilsson's 1971 hit song, "Without Her," serves as the second clarinet-bass duet of the CD, as they articulate the rich beauty of the tune, with Wind shadowing Peplowski's delicate tracings right up to the halting, resigned conclusion.

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Scott Albin