It always seems like a challenge to approach a Ken Peplowski album; challenge because it dares you to become deeply involved in the music. That’s exactly where it gets easy. You run the gauntlet of emotions as the music unfolds. You laugh and cry, you feel elemental sorrow and unbridled joy, and you are always irresistibly drawn into his chameleonic world. Ken Peplowski is like the Pied Piper of Hamelin and like the fabled character Peplowski is seductive, you are mesmerised and go willingly where he might lead, never to come back.
Enrapture is a flawless creation. It would have been flawless no matter what Peplowski had chosen to play. However, the fact that he has chosen exactly this one is that is he is inextricably drawn to great music and to the impulse to adorn it with his masterful playing, whether on clarinet – his first instrument – or on tenor saxophone, the instrument from which he breathes fire. Of the various recordings that Peplowski has made recently – all on Thomas Burns’ wonderful label, Capri Records, as a matter of fact – this one features a quartet that is easily his best yet. Ehud Asherie, a pianist for whom the deepest respect is reserved, is a mature and ingenious maestro who plays exactly the right note at the right time thereby making Peplowski’s playing that much greater. The communal, organic feel to the performance is heightened by the presence of two other fine musicians: bassist Martin Wind and the wonderful Matt Wilson.
In terms of the repertoire the disc is full of surprises and the biggest one of all is the inclusion of the Herbie Nichols chart ‘Enrapture’ after which the record is named. Why? It not only takes courage to even attempt expressing Herbie Nichols’ work in your own words; it takes the development of a whole new vocabulary. Nichols’ music demands that. The great pianist is one of the most ignored geniuses whose ability to celebrate the piano is second to none – not to Bud Powell or even Thelonious Monk, both of whom were contemporaries. Of the musicians who recognise this are the majestic trombonist Roswell Rudd and the great Steve Lacy, who have been the only curators of Nichols’ work. Although this is but one song there appears to be hope yet that Peplowski will make more music with Nichols’ tunes.
The greatness of this album is compounded by the music of many other iconic composers: Duke Ellington (‘The Flaming Sword’ another tune which few musicians, if at all, have attempted), John Lennon and Yoko Ono (‘Oh, My Love’, a heartbreaking love song, the like of which John Lennon and perhaps only Lennon could have penned), Peter Erskine (‘Twelve’, a rush of blood to the head), ‘Fats’ Waller and Andy Razaf (‘Willow Tree’, a beautiful tune made memorable by Rosemary Clooney) and on, and on, and on… It seems that Ken Peplowski can do no wrong here.
Ken Peplowski can do no wrong in the virtuosity with which he plays his chosen instruments either extracting from them every deep and soulful emotion all the time playing them as if they were extensions of his very body. ‘When October Goes’ is a case in point. On this chart his tenor saxophone brings enriched colour to bear on the lowest solo line, making the instrument ‘song’ with firmness, lyricism and a powerfully communicative quality. Of course, there is also his clarinet playing on ‘Willow Tree’, where his clarinet is played flawlessly, virtuosity of the highest order which is both accurate and expressive… Here Peplowski offers bold attack and vitality in the tone itself; He shapes Ellington’s lines with imagination and utter grace. With all this going for it somehow, ‘memorable’ seems hardly enough of a word to describe the experience of listening to this performance.
Track List: The Flaming Sword; An Affair to Remember (Our Love Affair); Oh, My Love; Cheer Up, Charlie; I’ll Follow My Secret Heart; Enrapture; Twelve; Vertigo Scene D’Amour; When October Goes; Willow Tree.
Personnel: Ken Peplowski: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie: piano; Martin Win Wind: bass; Matt Wilson: drums, percussion.
Label: Capri Records
Release date: March 2016
Running time: 53:34
Buy album on: amazon