Close to Mars
A Flower is a Lonesome Thing
Kenny Wheeler (trumpet and flugelhorn) and John Taylor (piano)
Recorded March 2005, Ludwigsburg [44:44]
This set, which carries a valedictory note from John Taylor to the late Kenny Wheeler, now takes on a double-depth of meaning given the pianist’s own
recent death. As Taylor pays tribute to Wheeler, so the listener too can pay tribute to both men whose 2005 set is issued here. Taylor adds, in his brief
epistle to his old departed friend, that “I remember we were not so convinced of our efforts at the time – which was often the case of course – but the
passage of time has allowed me a more objective view.” So, off-cuts or the real deal?
I’d say very much the latter. The Wheeler-Taylor duo weaves its way through the ten tracks, all compositions by Wheeler or co-compositions between the two
men except for one track, with variety and facility. On Canter No.2, Wheeler flies high, his trumpet pirouetting over Taylor’s always-interesting,
sometimes harmonically tangential comping. Some contrapuntal brass over-dubbing – not my favourite thing to hear – at least ensures a richly enhanced brass
potential. The ballad-like Fedora enshrines a Latin tinge, Taylor alluding to romantic affiliations in his soling without ever becoming too overt.
This element of the half-whispered phrase and the self-contained is a constant presence in this album. Taylor goes in for some inside-the-piano scraping on Sketch No.1 often, in the percussive strum, sounding strangely lute-like whilst Wheeler, appropriately given the sonorities evoked, plays muted.
His questioning brass tone enlivens Who Knows? where the animated interplay between both plays gets positively frisky. Whereas the loping romance
of Close to Mars and the lonesome Milesian tone of Sketch No.3 brings from Taylor an appropriate and devotedly thoughtful response. The
longest track, a performance of Billy Strayhorn’s A Flower is a Lovesome Thing brings out the best in both men. Wheeler’s lower register is richly
burnished, and Taylor’s fluidity and refinement is splendid to hear. It’s the longest track and perhaps the best.
It certainly ends the 45-minute disc on a high. It’s been beautifully recorded as well.