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.
Song for Someone
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 would go on to become European free improvising icons. Wheeler's composition work is astonishing as it effortlessly bridges the sounds and styles of modern jazz to free improvisation in a way that does not sound either forced or naive. Wheeler states in the brief liners: "The idea behind this band was to try and get special musicians from and into different areas of jazz to play together and to try to write music especially for them.
"The Good Doctor is an excellent example, starting off with Parker and Bailey improvising in the style for which they have been known post-1973. Following soft brass chords with a spacious and gentle bass rhythm, they stop, then re-enter with a conversation between "free" guys and the developing written music. This conversation might be compared to Ives' "The Unanswered Question more than a modern jazz big band piece, even though the composition does eventually move back to a modern big band sound. The bridge back to the avant-garde is Parker's tenor solo, starting in jazz, then moving into an explosive duet with Oxley (who, up until this point, has sounded more like Mel Lewis).
More big band jazz, an explosive trio of Oxley/Bailey/Parker, then superimposed horn chords over the trio. Coming on this tune's heels is the closer "Nothing Changes, a short piece featuring the only lyrics Winstone sings on the record, serving as a good musical summary of the CD's journey. Song for Someone is not only a revealing snapshot of a prodigious composer-band leader and his interaction with other important musicians at a momentous time in the music's history, it is simply vital music.
Kenny Wheeler & John Taylor
Where Do We Go From Here?
Where Do We Go From Here? is a wonderful duet record, revealing an attractive telepathy and serence confidence between Wheeler and Taylor. I would hazard a guess that most listeners are not very familiar with John Taylor, the self-taught jazz pianist that first gained attention with fellow Brits Alan Skidmore and John Surman, the husband and wife team of Cleo Laine and John Dankworth and as one-third of Azimuth (with Wheeler and Winstone). When you hear his touch on "Summer Night, there can be no doubt that he has deep roots in the traditional vocabulary; and when you listen to "Canter N.1, you hear an example of more modern language. "Dance is a very interesting track for its use of syncopation inside the triple meter, its somewhat exotic melodic material and its very sparse, unique and subtle use of overdubbing.
What Now? is also an attractive release, rich in details and content. Wheeler makes it all seem so simple: beautiful melodies, rich harmonies and a great band without a drummer to rein in the rhythms. So many of the performances are memorable ones. Swinging and melodic, tenor saxophonist Chris Potter starts the soloing on the opener "Iowa City and enjoys the ride over its chord changes. However, when Taylor solos, the creative sparks start to fly even further. His rhythmic imagination and security at the piano puts him in the same league with some of today's best. "For Tracy starts with an eloquent melody for piano and flugelhorn, followed by the tenor melodic statement and Dave Holland's bass, giving grounding to this solemn ballad. Once again, Taylor's solo is captivating for its dynamic touch and detailed voicings.
Though What Now? might receive the most amount of attention because of its inclusion of Chris Potter and Dave Holland, and all three of these CDs contain a lot of wonderful music, don't sleep on Song For Someone.
Tracks and Personnel
Song For Someone
Tracks: Toot-Toot; Ballad; Song For Someone; Causes Are Events; The Good Doctor; Nothing Changes.
Personnel: Kenny Wheeler: trumpet; Norma Winstone: voice; Mike Osborne: alto saxophone; Duncan Lamont: tenor sax and flute; David Horler: trombone; Greg Bowen: trumpet; Ian Hamer: trumpet; Dave Hancock: trumpet; Alan Branscombe: piano and electric piano; John Taylor: electric piano; Ron Matthewson: bass; Tony Oxley: percussion; Keith Christie: trombone; Bobby Lamb: trombone; Jim Wilson or Malcom Griffiths: bass trombone; Alfie Reece: tuba; Derek Bailey: guitar; Evan Parker: soprano and tenor saxophone.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Tracks: Summer Night; For Tracy; Mabel; Au Contraire; Canter N.1; Squiggles; One Two Three; Where Do We Go From Here; Dance; Fordor.
Personnel: Kenny Wheeler: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Taylor: piano.
Tracks: Iowa City; One Two Three: March Mist; The Lover Mourns; The Sweet Yakity Waltz; What Now?; For Tracy; Verona.
Personnel: Kenny Wheeler: flugelhorn; Chris Potter: tenor saxophone; John Taylor: piano; Dave Holland: bass.