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Tommy Newsom/Ken Peplowski: The Feeling of Jazz

Although not promoted as such, this happy pairing of tenormen Tommy Newsom and Ken Peplowski can be regarded as, if not a tribute to, then a remembering of the classic quintet jointly but irregularly led by Al Cohn and Zoot Sims from the late 1950s on. As were Al and Zoot, so are both Tommy and Ken also well-grounded in the school of playing that places primacy on a lyrical approach to improvisation, a warm tone, a healthy respect for swinging time, and a deliberate avoidance of athletic technical displays. So, if frequent excursions into the altissimo register, squawking multiphonics, and mind-numbing, assault-gun-like rapidity of notes presently constitute your definition of saxophone artistry, prepare to have your tastes broadened.

Backed with appropriate empathy and swing by pianist Ben Aronov, guitarist Mike Peters, bassist Greg Cohen, and drummer Chuck Redd, the two tenormen embrace and intertwine on such long-neglected standards as “Only a Rose,” “All Alone,” and “Skylark,” Ellington’s seldom-played “The Feeling of Jazz,” Aronov’s boppish “Bennie’s Pennies,” Newsom’s “Titter Pipes,” a chart he wrote decades ago for Benny Goodman, Buck Clayton’s “It’s Sand, Man,” Horace Silver’s “Opus de Funk,” and the show tunes, “Too Late Now” and “Lover, Come Back to Me.” While serving admirably as a palliative to so much of the anarchic, juvenile noise currently being hyped as music, the bare-boned honesty of the sounds heard here also reminds us that all is not yet lost to the gangsta-enthralled philistines, at least not as long as swingers like Tommy and Peps are given a chance.

Originally Published