Kenny Wheeler's string of ECM recordings are all quite rewarding, generally avoiding the ECM stereotype of introspective long tones and silence. A fiery but thoughtful trumpeter whose style can range from advanced swinging to sound explorations, Wheeler is joined on this excellent set by tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, pianist John Taylor, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette. They perform a set of Wheeler's originals and each of the world class musicians has an opportunity to be featured.
This two-disc set is a dazzling look at Kenny Wheeler's work as a composer. His breadth is stunning, from moody Oliver Nelson and Gil Evans-like expansiveness to compactly propulsive post-bop excursions. The first disc is taken up entirely with the eight-part "Sweet Time Suite." Wheeler's scoring is bracing and emotive. Singer Norma Winstone is on hand for portions of it, offering a gloriously soaring counterpoint to the massed horn section. Wheeler's diverse background serves him well, as he's quite comfortable with both the traditional and the avant-garde (he worked in one of Anthony Braxton's important combos in the mid-'70s). For anyone unfamiliar with this stellar musician's work, this is is an excellent starting point, as is his first album as a leader, the remarkable GNU HIGH.
Kenny Wheeler is among the most lyrically commanding yet daring of modern trumpeters. There's a palpable ease of execution, and a poignant human quality, to his distinctive timbre, as on the title tune where his fluttering descents into the lower register, the cracked yet powerful vocal inflections, and the sudden emission of high harmonics suggest a whistling column of air slowly leaking from a balloon. And from the moody Spanish tinge of "Present Past" to the raga-ish Nordic gravity of "Unti," alto player Lee Konitz matches Wheeler's lyric ease with a singing sound and rhythmic buoyancy all his own.
Beginning in 2012, pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland formed a duo partnership that found them performing live all around the world. The duo's 2014 studio album, The Art of Conversation, showcases this collaboration with a simple, beautifully understated mix of standards and original compositions. Journeyman solo artists and bandleaders in their own right, both Barron and Holland are virtuoso musicians who've made their mark playing disparate, if compatible, styles of jazz.
Songs for Quintet, Kenny Wheeler’s final recording, features compositions of relatively recent vintage, plus a fresh approach to “Old Time” – which the Azimuth trio used to play – and “Nonetheless”, a piece introduced on Angel Song. The album was recorded at London’s Abbey Road Studios with four of Kenny’s favourite players. Stan Sulzmann, John Parricelli, Chris Laurence and Martin France work together marvellously as an interactive unit, solo persuasively, and provide support for the tender and lyrical flugelhorn of the bandleader.