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Listening Post: Rare jazz by Lyle Mays and Ken Peplowski; some of Steve Reich’s best early percussion music

JAZZ

Lyle Mays Quartet, “The Ludwigsburg Concert” (Jazzhaus SWR, two discs)

History is being made on this disc. No one has ever heard Lyle Mays play this way before on a two-disc set. That’s because this, we are told, is the only “legal recording of the Lyle Mays Quartet.” Pat Metheny’s most famous sonic partner is heard here exclusively on piano in a 1993 German concert recording with saxophonist Bob Sheppard, bassist Mark Johnson and drummer Mark Walker. It’s from a German label’s “Heroes” series and there is nothing overblown about it when you hear it. What Mays and Quartet played in November 1993 was vastly different – and a great deal freer and more interesting – than what Mays had been playing with Pat Metheny since the two came together at the Wichita Jazz Festival. Mays explains: “there was no money for a synthesizer. It was just at this time the music industry was changing. We had no money for a big road crew, trucks, synthesizer, technicians, and were happy just to have gigs at all. For me, it was a challenge because I wasn’t used to playing only the piano. On the other hand, we managed to develop a wide range of sounds during the tour.” When Mays first heard the disc, “I was almost shocked. How was it possible? We seem to have played flawlessly and full of energy.” It is a rare and beautifully recorded presentation of a musician’s doing what few wanted or needed him to do exclusively before and doing it far more brilliantly than anyone might have expected. This, all on its own, was a first-class jazz quartet that should have had a longer recording life.

4 stars (out of four)

– Jeff Simon)

Ken Peplowski, “Enrapture” (Capri).

What’s so good here isn’t just that you’re hearing one of jazz’s great current clarinetists also playing tenor on this disc (as clarinetist Eddie Daniel does on his records). It’s Ken Peplowski’s sublime musical taste here about what to play and how. How often, on the same disc, do you hear a current jazz musician play Ellington’s “The Flaming Sword,” John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Oh, My Love” as a clarinet/bass duet, Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s “Cheer Up, Charlie,” Noel Coward’s “I’ll Follow My Secret Heart,” Herbie Nichols’ “Enrapture,” and, are you ready, some of the most beautiful and haunting themes from Bernard Herrmann’s score for Hitchcock’s masterwork “Vertigo”? Would you believe a Peter Erskine 12-tone composition based on Cole Porter’s “Easy to Love?” And then, in case, anyone should still doubt Peplowski’s rare musicality and taste, he ends the whole thing with a happy version of Fats Waller’s infrequently played “Willow Tree,” which Gil Evans and Cannonball Adderly turned into one of the slow-tempo jazz glories of its time. The rest of Peplowski’s quartet is pianist Ehud Ashere, bassist Martin Wind and eclectic, consummate drummer Matt Wilson. A marvelous surprise all the way through.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)

– Jeff Simon

CLASSICAL NEW MUSIC

Third Coast Percussion, Four pieces by Steve Reich (Cedille)

“We are part of the second generation of musicians to perform Steve Reich’s music” we read in the notes to this excellent disc. “The four of us in Third Coast Percussion were not yet born when critics first dubbed the early works of Reich, Philip Glass and others ‘minimalism’ and none of us learned any of this music from the composer. Rather, we grew up with this music already in the world. We performed this music as part of our education, listened to Reich’s recordings, and had occasional opportunities to study with musicians who came of age participating in Reich’s musical experiments. When we formed Third Coast Percussion ten years ago, it was inevitable that Reich’s work should be part of our repertoire.” So here’s a record celebrating Reich’s 80th birthday this year from younger musicians for whom it is part of the musical weather system they were born into. In other words, for Third Coast Percussion, Steve Reich is, literally, “classical music” of their own time. To hear it played that way may lack instrumental fire, but there’s a stateliness about this project which is a virtue of its own. Early Reich works performed are the “Mallet Quartet,” “Sextet,” “Nagoya Marimbas” and “Music for Pieces of Wood.”

3 stars (out of four)

– Jeff Simon

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