If there is a revival of interest in the jazz clarinet, men such as Ken Peplowski will deserve much of the credit. The 47-year-old American, who appeared on Sunday night with an excellent British rhythm section at the end of a three-week tour, reminds the listener that in the heyday of the swing era, it was two clarinettists, Artie Shaw and Peplowski's old boss Benny Goodman, who battled for the title of the "King of Swing".
At its best, the modern clarinet has none of the squawkiness sometimes evident on old trad records, but has a liquid honey tone and an unrivalled purity and swiftness of movement.
Peplowski's style is gentle on the ear. His solos are well-constructed, good-humoured, and relatively brief. It's as though he comes to a point where he realises he has nothing to add and, rather than go on he simply stops. Such lack of grandstanding is rare and generous in a leader.
His choice of material varied from familiar numbers such as "I Thought About You", to lesser-known parts of the Ellington canon. When Peplowski switched to the tenor, as on a frenetically paced "What is This Thing Called Love?", the ghosts of dozens of great big-band saxophonists - Paul Gonsalves, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis - were thrillingly present.
Peplowski could not have wished for a better supporting cast than John Critchinson on piano, Alec Dankworth on bass and Martin Drew on drums. Critchinson and Peplowski had one of those unique moments when a dual solo took off, and the two fired off each other to the delight of audience and players. Dankworth anchored the slow and medium numbers with great tent pegs from his bass, produced some beautifully warm sustained notes, and displayed perfect intonation.
Drew is surely without peer in this mainstream modern tradition. He possesses a lovely brush technique on the snare, a silky shimmer on the ride cymbal, and gets a fast number crackling without his straining a muscle. A bulky man, Drew sits behind his kit like a jazz Buddha, his eyes shut, his stomach spilling into the toms, and occasionally scowling.
Come back more often, please, Mr Peplowski.Reuse content