Ken Peplowski: In Search of…

Like Scott Hamilton, Ken Peplowski has proven the best revenge for being stereotyped as a neo-swing player is to develop a personal style and sound that skirts tradition as rewardingly as it basks in it. Though the clarinetist weds jazz to raga here on a quirky, vibraphone-dappled cover of George Harrison’s “Within You Without You,” he doesn’t need to go outside the jazz genre to impart his individualism. Peplowski’s special drive and melodic invention, on tenor saxophone as well as clarinet, lift everything he touches.

To wit: the masterfully constructed tenor reading of Freddie Redd’s “The Thespian” on In Search of… Reteamed in a terrific quartet with pianist Shelley Berg, Peplowski begins pensively and a bit mysteriously, shifts to edgy double-timed swing at the two-minute mark and progressively becomes tougher and more grounded right up to an abrupt, declamatory ending. Pushing and polishing the infectious melody of bassist Tom Kennedy’s optimistic ballad “Love’s Disguise,” he is no less urgent.

The quartet also tackles Rodgers and Hart’s rarely heard “A Ship Without a Sail,” featuring the leader at his most affecting, and “Falsa Baiana,” a samba showcasing drummer Jeff Hamilton, on which Peplowski handily avoids Getz-ian comparisons with his heartier sound and razor-curled notes. The final three tracks, rescued from an abandoned recording, include the Harrison tune (featuring bassist Greg Cohen, vibraphonist Chuck Redd and percussionist Joe Ascione) and a spirited clarinet-drum duet on Professor Longhair’s version of “Rum and Coca Cola.” It doesn’t reflect the New Orleans Benny Goodman had in mind, but there’s nothing at all wrong with that.