Clarinet maestros Peplowski and Stringle pepper-up Pizza Express with collaborative masterclass



This brilliant Anglo-American pairing has form: they toured together a year ago and recorded a pair of CDs, this latest successful round-up, a probable precursor to a repeat next year. Their one-off Dean Street date came mid-tour, the quintet combination run in and road-worthy, the two front-liners clearly at ease with each other, the irrepressibly creative Ken Peplowski balanced by the more pristine, cool-sounding Julian Marc Stringle, the latter still identified by his hipster-style shoulder-length hair. A further benefit of their road time came in the performance of the rhythm section, with pianist Craig Milverton, something of an unsung hero on the UK scene, impressing with his range of ideas, crisp attack and commitment to swing, the rock-steady bassist Sandy Suchodolski a heartbeat away and drummer Nick Milward giving everything an extra sense of dash.

Crazy Rhythm’ opened, taken at pace with a neat, harmonised twist to the melody, as Peplowski went straight into overdrive, his solo building layer upon layer of invention. It’s widely thought that he’s the finest clarinettist active today: on this showing few would quibble with that assessment.  What’s more, he’s a stylist and recognisably so, owing little to his predecessors, harmonically canny and urgent. Stringle has his own strengths too, a fine command of tone and a sense of theatre in the way he builds his solos. This was especially evident on the bossa-flavoured ‘Triste’ and ‘Pequinita’, a pretty Neil Angilley song. Mind you, his standout performance was on ‘Maria’ by Bernstein, this something of a bravura affair, cleverly thought-through and rising to an imposing climax. That said, my preferences were for their all-out clarinet duet on ‘Airmail Special’, hackneyed maybe, but given quite a torrid seeing-to, this only equalled by their two-tenor reading of ‘Sometimes I’m Happy’ with Stringle quite robust and KP sinuous and serpentine, hinting at a liking for Lucky Thompson. Best of the night? Peplowski back on clarinet, with just Suchodolski for company, playing the usually schmaltzy ‘Smile’ entirely sotto voce, the audience rapt, and the sound quite sublime. Masterly.

– Peter Vacher

– Photo by David Thomas

The Clarinet Maestros by Ken Peplowski, Julian Marc Stringle and the Craig Milverton Trio is on Merfangle MM415 and Together Again by the same line-up is on Merfangle MM816