Ken Peplowski – Live at Mezzrow (ENG review)

Cellar Music Group / Fondation SmallsLIVE – Street date July 5th 2024
Ken Peplowski - Live at Mezzrow

Ken Peplowski is an extraordinary jazzman with over 70 personal recordings to his name and prestigious collaborations with a wide range of artists, including Charlie Byrd, Mel Tormé, Hank Jones, Peggy Lee, Woody Allen, Benny Goodman, and Madonna. Needless to say, this album, modestly titled Live at Mezzrow, is a true gem that your ears will quickly embrace, as Ken Peplowski’s melodic sense and saxophone playing are so commanding. On this recording, the band leader is accompanied by Ted Rosenthal on piano, Martin Wind on double bass, and Willie Jones III on drums, offering a captivating performance captured during two one-hour sets. We particularly appreciate the simplicity of this setup, which guarantees a very “club” sound, with Ken Peplowski’s playing alone bringing a form of modernity through his propositions. So, we sit down quietly, a glass in hand, and listen, captivated by the beauty of the moment.

In his own words, Peplowski shares the journey behind the album: “Like most musicians, when the dreaded Covid, along with the accompanying lockdown, struck in 2020, it was the end of work. As a sort of very dark cosmic joke, not only did I have a severe case of Covid in March 2020, but my beloved dog Honeypie had to be euthanized in April 2021. In June of that year, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.”

So, this is a very special album with a unique story. Indeed, SmallsLIVE owner and pianist Spike Wilner proposed the idea of this live album to Peplowski, who immediately accepted. The acclaimed multi-instrumentalist said, “This is my favorite way to record – I like to work on musical material for a year or two, find interesting pieces that are less often played, revive a few pieces that I haven’t played in years, and simply go into the studio with friends and record like a band on stage, playing the music, with its imperfections, and that’s exactly what we did.”

We crave more of such imperfections because a ten-track live album seems a bit short once we’ve immersed ourselves in this ambiance. Ken Peplowski Live at Mezzrow includes unique interpretations of jazz classics as well as lesser-known gems, all delivered with an authority and nuance that only Peplowski and his colleagues can achieve. Each selection tells a story of Peplowski’s fruitful musical adventures with the architects of this art. The live performance is a true masterclass in interaction, with Peplowski’s melodic refrains soaring above Rosenthal’s harmonic reflections, supported by the rhythmic section of Willie Jones III and Martin Wind, themselves talented melodic musicians.

Needless to say, this album can quickly go on repeat, creating an honest and warm ambiance. Although they are covers, they are arranged with such talent that they can be considered recompositions, and this is probably why this album slips surreptitiously into our “Essentials”.

Thierry De Clemensat
USA correspondent – Paris-Move and ABS magazine
Editor in chief Bayou Blue Radio, Bayou Blue News

PARIS-MOVE, June 14th 2024

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