When artists move into their eighties, every new album is a gift. It's difficult enough for any octogenarian musician to maintain his/her game, but especially horn players, for whom embouchure and breath are so essential to tone and reach. Six for Six is, however, a curious gift from expat Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, who's made Britain his home since the mid-'50s. Recorded in 2008, it's his first sextet recording since 2003's Dream Sequence--and even that album only featured one piece for all six players. What that really means, then, is that Six for Six is Wheeler's first real sextet date ...read more
It often comes as a surprise to people when they discover that trumpeter/flugelhornist/composer Kenny Wheeler is not British. Well, not British born, for although born in Toronto, Canada, in 1930, Wheeler has spent the last 60 years living in England, which surely makes him as English as Ploughman's Lunch or a pint of bitter. The recording Mirrors (Edition Records, 2013) sees the veteran team up with singer Norma Winstone and the London Vocal Project, a 25-piece choir directed by Pete Churchill, to interpret the poetry of Stevie Smith, Lewis Carroll and W. B. Yeats. The results are nothing short of ...read more
That trumpeter/flugelhornist/composer Kenny Wheeler is challenging himself at 80 is surely inspirational. Mirrors represents his first recording where poems provide the music's source, though he composed the music over 20 years ago. The project was then commissioned for five solo voices in 1998, but the combination of Wheeler, singer Norma Winstone and the London Vocal Project, led by Pete Churchill, brings a fluid, suite-like permanency and epic scale to the original concept. Poets Stevie Smith, Lewis Carroll and W.B. Yeats provide strikingly diverse imagery--surreal, visceral and profound--and Wheeler weaves it all together in a sumptuous melodic tapestry where the music ...read more
Kenny Wheeler Big Band The Long Waiting Cam Jazz 2012 While likely not the reason behind its title, The Long Waiting could easily fit for fans of the Canadian expat trumpeter who has lived in England since the 1950s. Since coming to Cam Jazz in 2004 with his duo recording with longtime pianist and fellow Cam Jazzer John Taylor, Where Do We Go From Here?, Kenny Wheeler has ramped up his output, releasing four more albums in the ensuing years. But all of the octogenarian's Cam Jazz recordings have been small ensemble affairs, and though ...read more
In a 2001 Norma Winstone interview, the British vocalist referred to Kenny Wheeler as the Duke Ellington of our time." Wheeler, whose reputation has grown almost in spite of his own quiet humility, may not possess Ellington's populist cachet, but that doesn't mean the trumpeter's music is any less distinctive or groundbreaking, and with no small reach: his music, studied in detail at universities around the world; his large ensemble work, grist for many a big band. Not being a household name needn't mean lack of significance, with Wheeler's place in jazz history long since assured as one of the ...read more
Following Kenny Wheeler's career can be a knotty proposition. Born in Canada, the trumpeter/composer relocated to Britain in the 1950s, becoming an integral part of its jazz scene. He recorded for Germany's ECM Records for over two decades, including the classic Gnu High (1976) in addition to his Azimuth collaborations with pianist John Taylor and singer Norma Winstone. More recently shifting his affiliation to Italian labels including EGEA and CAM Jazz, he's focused largely on small groups, though he's made a handful of albums for larger ensembles, including Music for Large & Small Ensembles (ECM, 1990). Regardless of context, the ...read more
Pianist Enrico Pieranunzi isn't the only artist influenced by Kenny Wheeler's classic Gnu High. It's a safe bet that the trumpeter's 1976 debut as a leader for ECM, featuring the perfect line-up of pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette, has been one of small group jazz's most influential albums of the past thirty years; as remarkable for Wheeler's inimitable writing as its unparalleled performances. Few, however, get the opportunity to recruit Wheeler in the same quartet context for an album perhaps lacking the classic" stamp of Gnu High, but coming darn close. With seven Pieranunzi compositions ...read more
Since moving to the Italian Cam Jazz label after over thirty years with ECM, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler has experimented more liberally with context. He's played in a duo setting with long-time musical partner/pianist John Taylor on Where Do We Go From Here? (2004); a sax/piano/bass/trumpet quartet on What Now? (2005), and a two-guitar/bass/trumpet ensemble on It Takes Two! (2006). The thread winding through these three very different projects is, without the participation of a drummer, a chamber jazz ambiance. Other People takes that concept to its logical conclusion, with Wheeler writing new music for the Wolf String ...read more
It takes two to tango. Two guitars, that is, on this quartet album by Kenny Wheeler, a very personal outing in a novel setting. Guitarists John Abercrombie and John Parricelli partner with the trumpeter on these Italian sessions, as well as bassist Anders Jormin.
References to world music permeate Wheeler's idiosyncratic style in these original compositions (there are also two wholly improvised tracks). He has an original way of shrouding lyrical melodies with chords and progessions that seem to be selected primarily for their colours, instead of their function. The unicity of his chords-for-colour" approach to modal harmony ...read more
Kenny Wheeler's music may be likened to a waking dream--the cool, ethereal alternative to the incendiary abandon of his peers. There is a strange dichotomy between the wooly, often weird trumpeter who participated in the salad days of European free improvisation and the man who cut It Takes Two!, the veritable embodiment of musical restraint. Much of Wheeler's solo work seems a world away from the bustling sounds of '70s London, favoring a light, airy romanticism and eschewing the strident revolution so imminent to his generation. Always the voice of calm, Wheeler is now far out front--also, strangely, a few ...read more
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, ...read more
Kenny Wheeler's career has been almost singularly defined by its unpredictability, but It Takes Two! may be the trumpeter's biggest surprise yet. No stranger to unorthodox combinations, a two-guitar/bass lineup allows Wheeler's compositions to head in some unexpected directions. The material bears the melancholy lyricism that's been an unmistakable signature of his career. But It Takes Two! also features two uncharacteristically abstract and angular free improvisations. It also possesses, at times, a hint of the gentle Mediterranean breeze that Wheeler and his group must have felt while recording in Udine, Italy.
Wheeler has worked extensively with both John Abercrombie and ...read more
For years I've admired the great Canadian musician Kenny Wheeler because of his fantastic compositions and arrangements, his incredible sound on both the trumpet and flugelhorn, his superb recordings as well as his wide open artistic vision. Last week I went to a big-band concert that featured Kenny as the guest performer and composer. At 70+ years of age Kenny still has the ability to amaze both as a player as well as composer. He sounds as fresh as any young lion and deep as any veteran. His pieces are full of complex harmonies and changing times and rhythms and ...read more
These three CDs by trumpeter Kenny Wheeler provide a glimpse of one of this planet's greatest musicians; all also feature the under-appreciated pianist John Taylor.
Kenny Wheeler Song for Someone Psi 2004
Certainly Song for Someone will be an exciting find for Wheeler enthusiasts. A big band record that has a unique sound from the opening moments (with Norma Winstone's wordless vocals in front) only becomes more intriguing as it progresses. Based on this '73 recording, it's fascinating to consider that Tony Oxley and guests Derek Bailey and Evan Parker ...read more
Join our growing community ofwriters, musicians, visual artists and advocates.