Kenny Wheeler: It Takes Two! (2006)

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Kenny Wheeler: It Takes Two!
Two guitarists, that is. While Kenny Wheeler has recorded with John Abercrombie and John Parricelli before, he hasn't done so on the same session. Until now, anyway: It Takes Two! matches the veteran trumpeter with the two guitarists and acoustic bassist Anders Jormin. The results are spacious, calm, and at times broodingly pensive.

Parricelli and Abercrombie combine in various formations of electric, nylon and acoustic guitars; with Jormin, they create precisely interwoven sonic fabrics that provide a near-perfect setting for the trademark sighs and keenings of Wheeler's flugelhorn. The absence of percussion here gives the musicians plenty of space, but while this is hardly hard-charging music, it's certainly not rubato playing—even the quietest numbers have a taut and palpable tempo.

There's a Spanish quality to many of the compositions (all Wheeler's except for two group improvisations and a gorgeous take on Alex North's "Love Theme From 'Spartacus' ), and if their melodies feel like variations on one theme, it's so much the better—this is a recording best heard in its entirety, where the pieces work on the listener collectively. There's no denying the loveliness of the songs and the group performances, but there's an unsentimental somberness here, a stark, clear-eyed resignation with a deeply autumnal, sunset quality—perhaps even a premonition of mortality.

Of all the players, Wheeler is the least-heard musician here (he lays out entirely on "Spartacus ), but he's never been a selfish musician, and there's no audible loss of technique in his range, his phrasing, or his imaginative bends and slurs. His solo ruminations over the shimmering bed of Parricelli's nylon, Jormin's bass and Abercrombie's steel-string acoustic on "Comba n. 3 are achingly perfect. The two guitarists' following solos are just as fine, however, and the collective impression is that of a series of long-considered remarks at a moot of elders. Compared to the pin-drop fragility of pieces like the title track and "My New Hat, the hardly up-tempo "After All is a veritable sizzler, with a stunning introduction of just Wheeler and Jormin and a hot-liquid electric solo from Parricelli.

The two group improvisations and the aforementioned "After All add just the right amount of urgency to the album—without them, the exclamation point in the CD's title would seem pretty much uncalled for. The free-blues "Improvisation n. 1 is stingingly effective: two electic guitars, Jormin's arco bass and Wheeler's trumpet (not flugelhorn, which he plays through most of the album) go off into some interesting—and almost grumpily caustic—outside territory.

Neither the compositions nor the performances are shockingly unlike a good deal of Wheeler's recorded material, but the writing and playing are of an extremely high level. There's a beauty here that's exceptionally uncloying and mature. Even for jazz music, where the quality is so highly esteemed, this is a session as much about listening as playing.

Track Listing: My New Hat; It Takes Two!; Comba N.3; Fanfare; Love Theme From "Spartacus"; After All; Improvisation N.1; The Jig Saw; Canter N.4; One of Many; Improvisation N.2; Never Always.

Personnel: Kenny Wheeler: flugelhorn, trumpet; John Abercrombie: guitar; John Parricelli: guitar; Anders Jormin: bass.

Record Label: CAM Jazz

Style: Modern Jazz


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