Ken Peplowski Quintet – Live At Ambassador Auditorium – Concord Jazz CCD-4610 59:13****

An exhilarating session that works to the strengths of the individual members

(Ken Peplowski – tenor saxophone, clarinet; Howard Alden – guitar; Ben Aronov – piano; Murray Wall – bass; Tom Melito – drums; Special Guest: Harry “Sweets”Edison – trumpet tracks 3 ,4, 9)

Since this session was recorded in 1994, much has changed in the music world in general and jazz in particular. However what has not changed is a clear, consistent, sense of enthusiasm from the bandstand. Live At Ambassador Auditorium featuring the Ken Peplowski Quintet delivers the goods in exhilarating fashion.

Ken Peplowski, while he may not be considered an innovator on either the tenor sax or the clarinet, is nevertheless more than accomplished on both instruments. On tenor his tone is mellow and breezy, while on clarinet he is more boppish in style rather than Woody Herman-like. Surrounding himself with a coterie of like-minded players, plus guest trumpeter “Sweets” Edison, the band romps through a selection tunes that works to strengths of the individual members.

Starting with Dizzy Gillespie’s “Birk’s Works” a blues in style if not in form, opens with Peplowski’s tenor setting the theme which is quickly picked up by Aronov’s stylish piano in a crisp solo, before Peplowski jumps back in with a long excursion leading to the out chorus. The only original by two of the principals Peplowski and guitarist Alden is a boppish number entitled”Nuts” based on the chord changes on Crazy Rhythm. The unison playing between Peplowski and Alden is reminiscent of the style shown on the Johnny Smith/Stan Getz album Moonlight In Vermont, especially on the tune Jaguar. 

The first appearance of trumpeter “Sweets” Edison is on “I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance” where he eases in on Harmon mute. At this point he was 79 years old and was a bit unsteady in tone and embouchure. However from time to time, he seemed to find his old form, but this was more a nostalgic appearance. The other members of the group were in fine fettle and played with empathy. “The Best Things In Life Are Free” is a swinger from the opening bars and wonderfully Edison seems to have had a rejuvenation and was up to his best remembered self, on both muted trumpet and open horn. A true delight with everyone in full tilt boogie mode.

Red Norvo and Tal Farlow penned a little heard ditty called “ I Brung You Finjans For Your Zarf” which was first recorded for the 1956 Fantasy release Red Norvo With Strings, the strings being Tal Farlow guitar and Red Mitchell on bass. It was released on Translucent Red vinyl ( a collectors’ item if there ever was one). With some nifty unison playing between Peplowski’s clarinet and Alden’s guitar, the number dances along with Peplowski handling the tricky chord changes with aplomb.

The album closes with an extended version of “Exactly Like You” with “Sweets” Edison on open horn and fully engaged with the tune. Although he struggles a little with the high notes, and has some shaky intonation from time to time, he holds his own with the musicians who are many years his junior. Peplowski is in fine form on the clarinet as he covers the instrument’s full range fearlessly and does several bars in dazzling double time towards the end of his solo. Alden has a lovely touch here as well on the other tracks and tends to be underrated. This is a crowd pleasing closer.

Birk’s Works
I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance
The Best Things In Life Are Free
At Long Last Love
Menina Flor
I Brung You Finjans For Your Zarf
Why Try To Change Me Now
Exactly Like You

—Pierre Giroux