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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 - Bass

Martin France - Drums

Recorded in December, 2013 at Abbey Road Studios, nine months before the legendary Canadian trumpeter and composer's death at the age of 84, this CD is Kenny Wheeler's last recording. It also serves as a tribute from producer Manfred Eicher to the whole body of work (listed in an accompanying booklet) that Wheeler recorded for ECM. The four musicians joining him on this date were four of his closest musical associates in recent years. All the compositions are by Wheeler including several that have been recorded by other Wheeler line-ups in the past, for example The Long Waiting, which is the title track of the magnificent big band recording from 2012 on Cam Jazz, Canter No. 1 from that same recording and Nonetheless from one of Kenny's finest recordings, the 1997 `Angel Song'.

In the last few years of his life, Wheeler preferred to play the flugelhorn with its mellower sound and suitability for reflective solos. Inevitably, given the fragility of his physical state, his playing on this recording is not without occasional fluffs. It will be appreciated by Wheeler aficionados but perhaps less so by listeners unfamiliar with his work.

Wheeler's fragility on this date has the effect of galvanising the other musicians to new heights. In particular, Sulzmann, always thoroughly professional, plays quite magnificently throughout as if he were trying to breathe new life into his old friend's frail physique. Parricelli, too, contributes a number of excellent guitar solos - there's a particularly fluent one on Seventy-Six - and the commanding support provided by bassist Laurence and drummer France could hardly be bettered.

The tango-influenced Sly Eyes has an authoritative solo by Sulzmann whilst Wheeler sounds more secure when playing in unison with the saxophonist. On Pretty Liddle Waltz, a typically attractive Wheeler tune, Kenny plays a haunting solo over Parricelli's gentle riffs.

There are many moments of melancholic beauty on this CD as well as a powerful sense of collective creativity that speaks movingly of the great affection in which this gentle and modest musical genius was held.

George Stacy



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