Friday 8 October 2010

Ken Peplowski, The Caxton Arms, 7th October

Last night's gig with US reeds player Ken Peplowski was "a swingin' affair", as Frank would say. Joined by top local players Steve Thompson (bass), Piers Clark (guitar) and Mark Edwards (piano) in an all-acoustic setting, Ken wowed the packed basement of the The Caxton Arms with a stream of swing classics. On his clarinet, the style was very much Benny Goodman. Beautifully executed heads and solos on tunes such as Moonglow, Avalon and Charlie Christian's A Smooth One. His tenor playing is very smooth and melodic, like Lester Young. I particularly liked his rendition of Ike Quebec's Jim Dawgs (based on I Got Rhythm changes) and Body and Soul.

Of the other musicians, Mark Edwards showed what a versatile player he is. Although I have heard him playing hard bop, modern jazz and gospel, he was equally at home playing in the pre-bop style of the Thirties and Forties. As an inventive soloist, he stood shoulder to shoulder with Ken throughout. Steve Thompson's bass was brushing the ceiling but this did not effect his bass playing in any way. He swung hard and played some lovely solos. Piers Clark has honed a rhythm guitar style that makes him sound as though he has been catapulted forward from the Thirties in a time machine. He played impeccable four to the bar throughout and, with no drummer, added a nice brushes and hi-hat feel to the sound. Ken was careful to give Piers a few solo choruses here and there and he filled them with some nice chord melodies.

It was great hearing a completely acoustic band. The ears get used to it in no time at all and the sound was rich, full and subtle. Ken sounded most beautiful on his solo version of Duke Ellington's Single Petal of a Rose.

Ken demonstrated a ready wit and shared plenty of banter and anecdotes with the audience. This crowd-pleasing style of swing is clearly his core repertoire, though there's an interesting profile here saying that he is equally at home playing Ornette Coleman and The Beatles.

The evening was a successful start to a season of jazz events with name musicians and a local rhythm section, the next being trumpeter Enrico Tomasso on October 21. The venue is called Smalls, like the Greenwich Village jazz club, but some thought needs to go into making sure it can fit the eighty odd audience comfortably. Standing through two sets can be tiring and getting to the bar was challenging!

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