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Ken Wheeler & The John Dankworth Orchestra: Windmill Tilter

Nic Jones By

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It's easy to forget how long Canadian-born Kenny Wheeler has been making music. This, the first of his infrequent large ensemble recordings, was originally released back in 1969, and some thirteen years prior to that he was working in the quintet of baritone saxophonist Buddy Featherstonhaugh.

Windmill Tilter offers the best of both worlds: not only is there Wheeler's highly distinctive writing for large ensemble, but there are a couple of quintet tracks, featuring Wheeler in the company of tenor saxophonist Tony Coe—a stylist as distinctive as anyone out there.

'Sweet Dulcinea Blue' is one of them, and it's an object lesson in how to extract colors from a small group. This comes to fruition in no small measure because of the distinct personalities of the musicians involved. Guitarist John McLaughlin was ostensibly still in the formative stage of his musical life, but his solo is a model of grace. it could hardly be any other way, given the lyrical qualities of the composition, a factor emphasized by the keening quality of Wheeler's flugelhorn outing.

The foreboding quality of "Sancho" serves unsurprisingly musical ends, topped off by an alto sax solo by John Dankworth, that encapsulates how he might have been an influence on Mike Osborne prior to that singular talent finding his own voice.

Set against it, "The Cave Of Montesinos" highlights how well-formed Wheeler's musical personality is, even at this stage, its atmosphere never dissipating, thanks, in large part, to the presence of a tuba in the ensemble. Wheeler again turns in a solo as quietly compelling as anything he's ever done, also highlighting how he never seems to be a man in a hurry. As a consequence, what he has to say comes out stimulating and ripe.

But ultimately, this is one of those releases that transcends the ample qualities of the music because, along with something like Tubby Hayes's Mexican Green (Universal, 1967), it highlights how British jazz—or, perhaps, that should be Commonwealth jazz, given Wheeler's Canadian origin—came of age at a time when such a development didn't seem like a foregone conclusion. Graham Collier was forging his identity at the same time too, which only goes to show how long it is since jazz became an international language, especially in view of the decades prior to that time in which it was also taking place.

Track Listing: Preamble; Don the Dreamer; Sweet Dulcinea Blue; Bachelor Sam; Sancho; The Cave of Montesinos; Propheticape; Altisidora; Don No More.

Personnel: Kenny Wheeler: flugelhorn; Derek Watkins: trumpet (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 9); Henry Shaw: trumpet (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 9); Henry Lowther: trumpet (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 9); Les Condon: trumpet (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 9); Chris Pyne: trombone: (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 9); Mike Gibbs: trombone: (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 9); John Dankworth: saxophone (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 9); Ray Swinfield: saxophone (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 9); Tony Robert: saxophone (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 9); Tony Coe: saxophone; Alf Reece: tuba (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 9); Dick Hart: tuba (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 9); Bob Corford: piano (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 9); Alan Branscome: piano (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 9); John McLaughlin: guitar; Dave Holland: bass; John Spooner: drums; Tristan Fry: percussion (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 9).

Title: Windmill Tilter | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: BGO Records

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