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Kenny Wheeler: Songs for Quintet

Robert Bush By

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Recorded less than a year before his death, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler's swan song is a document that sings with smoldering beauty and palpable heartache—all captured in the typically sublime detail that has become the trademark of the ECM label.

Wheeler concentrates on flugelhorn throughout, and his long-time association with saxophonist Stan Sulzmann pays big dividends, as the horns orbit each other on the opening "Seventy-Six," where the leader's burnished, centered tone remains one of the most compelling sounds in jazz. Guitarist John Parricelli, who seems to be coming out of the John Abercrombie tradition, unites with Sulzmann to shoulder much of the solo responsibilities, and his clear, resonant timbre is consistently rewarding.

Although his laser bursts into the upper register and pinpoint vibrato are gone, the heart of Wheeler's sound, and his brilliant organization of ideas are still resolute and pure, as evidenced on "Jigsaw," and "Canter No. 1," which also serve as calling cards for Parricelli and Sulzmann, especially, who cranks the latter into a double-time fervor.

Bassist Chris Laurence delivers a sparkling, soulful essay on the tango "Sly Eyes," skillfully navigating the divide between Charlie Haden's purity and the velocity of a Gary Peacock with considerable grace; drummer Martin France also comes alive on this tune, steering the groove with irresistible martial cadences and forward motion.

The least typical tune on the album is "1076," a free caterwaul of explosive drums and distorted guitar that the trumpeter soars above with incisive clarity—sounding closer to full-strength Wheeler than anyone had a right to expect.

The ravages of time and disease are demons we all must face, yet few have done so with such attention to beauty and the creative process as Wheeler managed with Songs for Quintet. There will never be another Kenny Wheeler, but this disc offers one final reveal into his singular aesthetic.

Track Listing: Seventy Six; Jigsaw; The Long Waiting; Canter No.1; Sly Eyes; 1076; Old Time; Pretty Liddle Waltz; Nonetheless.

Personnel: Kenny Wheeler: flugelhorn; Stan Sulzman: tenor saxophone; John Parricelli: guitar; Chris Laurence: double bass; Martin France: drums.

Title: Songs for Quintet | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: ECM Records

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