Dick Hyman and Ken Peplowski – Live at the Kitano (2013)

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The collaboration of two artists like Dick Hyman and Ken Peplowski is almost always going to warrant sublime results, but the magic of Live at the Kitano is a little like sitting in on an altogether remarkable meeting of the minds.

Recorded on-site over the course of a weekend in 2012 at the Kitano Hotel in New York, and issued by Victoria Records, this album deals in something unique for the pair in that it focuses on the element of trust that exists between these two great musicians. It also reveals cool timing, breadth of vision and, best of all, a sense of adventure that dwells in the smaller moments as much as it dwells in the big ones.

“You have to know and trust your partner when you’re both improvising,” says Hyman. “You must prepare to be surprised and you need to have a big supply of material in common in your head and your hands.”
Preparing to be surprised is also the job of the listener when it comes to Live at the Kitano, of course. One minute the pianist and saxophonist/clarinetist are soaring through the insistent boogie-woogie of W.C. Handy’s “Yellow Dog Blues” and the next they’re dunked in the clever ballad “Lucky to Be Me.”

“The Blue Room” starts it all with a wondrously flowing foundation set by Hyman’s elegant lines and Peplowski’s warm reed. The pair eases the Rodgers and Hart classic into view beautifully, touching the notes with detail and care and playing through an opening that is just to tenderly off-kilter. Then there’s “I Mean You!,” a piece originally put down by Coleman Hawkins and Thelonious Monk. Punched with feeling that is accented by Hyman’s audible exhalations, this joint bounces through some tremendous unison playing and captures a nice dose of that Hyman bass-playing. Hyman and Peplowski draw on Monk again with the “somewhat re-harmonized” “Ugly Beauty.” The tune is played as a lovely waltz and it breathes with care while it whisks the listener away to mystical places. The light ivory rolls are delectable, as is Peplowski’s measured delivery.

Throughout these songs, the reality of the connection between Peplowski and Hyman really sinks in. The two performers have worked together throughout the past 25 years, sure, but something about Live at the Kitano seems to ground that rapport in something more tangible. Perhaps it’s the splendor of the intimate setting or perhaps it’s something else altogether, but this disc is one of those rare encapsulations of a relationship that seems to extend beyond the professional and well into the spiritual.

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Jordan Richardson

Jordan Richardson is a Canadian freelance writer and ne'er-do-well. He also contributes to his own Canadian Cinephile and Canadian Audiophile websites. Contact Something Else! Reviews at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
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