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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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KENNY WHEELER

Songs for Quintet

ECM 470 4653

 

 

  1. Seventy-Six

  2. Jigsaw

  3. The Long Waiting

  4. Canter No. 1

  5. Sly Eyes

  6. 1076

  7. Old Time

  8. Pretty Liddle Waltz

  9. Nonetheless

Kenny Wheeler - Flugelhorn

Stan Sulzmann - Tenor saxophone

John Parricelli - Guitar

Chris Laurence - Double bass

Martin France - Drums

Kenny Wheeler, who died in September 2014, was Canadian by birth but had become a pre-eminent presence on the British jazz scene over the years since he first came to London in 1952. Equally adept on trumpet or flugelhorn, he was also a composer of distinction despite his modest disclaimers to the contrary. He touched all the musical bases during his long career, extending from free improvisation to fusion and chamber jazz. He could write for big bands and small groups alike and his list of collaborators resembled a roll-call of European (and, at times, North American) jazz talent. He continued to produce work of high quality well into his later years. I was privileged to hear him live during his 80th birthday Big Band tour in October 2010, when all four of his companions on this final, beautifully produced, disc were members of the orchestra. It was a memorable occasion, not least because the programme ranged widely and his characteristically melancholy style found lively as well as poignant expression in varied settings.

Songs for Quintet was recorded for ECM in December 2013 and the final mix completed before his death. It's a reminder of what we have lost and features mostly recent compositions by the master, played by five very fine musicians who know each other inside out because of their long association. Nonetheless, however, was written some time ago. It's a personal favourite of mine so I listened to all three versions of the tune I have in my collection for purposes of comparison. I concluded that I still prefer the track on the 1996 recording, Angel Song, released by ECM in 1997, featuring as it did, Lee Konitz on alto, Bill Frisell on guitar and Dave Holland on bass and, of course, Kenny leading the group. The rendition here, slightly shorter than the original, still entrances with Stan Sulzmann especially effective.

The tracks which carried most appeal for me on the disc under review were Canter No. 1 which lives up to its title, Sly Eyes which has a Latin feel and Old Time where there is excellent interplay between Wheeler and Sulzmann. The latter deserves star billing throughout, whether bop-ish as in Canter No. 1 or romantic as in The Long Waiting. Parricelli, meanwhile offers plangent, haunting guitar of a high standard (hear, for instance, his work on Jigsaw). Chris Laurence's bass is variously dexterous and resonant, while Martin France's drumming delivers all one could wish. Very occasionally, Wheeler's tone on flugelhorn sounds a little shaky (though, since fragility has been part of his sound for a long time now, this may be imagination on my part!). His performance, nevertheless, is remarkable and this swansong may prompt listeners to sample other, earlier, ECM classic albums such as Gnu High, Deer Wan, and Music For Large And Small Ensembles, not forgetting the aforementioned Angel Song. For all sorts of reasons, this final disc of a wonderful jazz musician comes highly recommended.

James Poore



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