Maybe September, Ken Peplowski’s third outing for Capri Records, delivers the clarinetist and saxophonist in high form as expected.
In this instance, however, he is delivering what he terms a “warts and all” recording that was completed in about three hours. The on-the-fly style adds emotional texture to the songs, which are presented as works of expansive creativity and almost breathless spontaneity. In essence, Peplowski’s penchant for storytelling is an unstoppable element all its own — no matter how familiar the material.
So how are the stories told on Maybe September? The beauty of it is that these pieces unfold as group efforts, which is required due to the flowing nature of the recording. Peplowski once more switches from clarinet to tenor saxophone throughout, while the crew of pianist Ted Rosenthal, bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson dig in for a series of compositions from the likes of Harry Warren, Artie Shaw and the tandem of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Irving Berlin’s “All Alone by the Telephone” is a beautiful way to start the record. Peplowski plays intimately and carefully over delicate keys and Wilson’s light cymbals. With a ring and a ting-a-ling, the lads carry the loneliness of the song. Brian Wilson’s “Caroline, No,” a Pet Sounds gem, is imagined as a blue-lit plea with Peplowski’s lyrical reed asking the questions. His phrasing is delicate and pure, but there’s also the sense that he’s lingering like the final words escape him. With this piece in particular, it’s no wonder that Tony Bennett considered the saxophonist a “helluva singer.”
That “singing” moves via clarinet on Bill Trader’s “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such As I,” a tune popularized by Canadian Hank Snow and the one and only Elvis Presley. With this entry, Peplowski’s clarinet walks some seriously honky-tonk lines on his way to the truth of the song.
In essence, getting to the truth of these standards, classics, hits, and not-so-hits is what Maybe September — and just about every Ken Peplowski disc — winds up being about. As much as the majority of the tunes on the record are relationship killers, the band makes these numbers about so much more and broadens their appeal while thickening their meaning.
These sorts of songs without words gain new context under Peplowski and Co. and that’s the great thing about this album. Assuming the voices of Elvis or Brian or even John is the easy part. Getting down to the heart of the matter as effectively as these cats do, on the other hand, is a hell of a lot harder.