Recent Listening: Kenny Wheeler

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Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler, One Of Many (CamJazz).

Wheeler, on flugelhorn, penetrates the album's air of thoughtful melancholy with the pungency of his interval leaps, harmonic adventures and shadings of tone. Seventy-six when this was made (he is now 81), his daring was as undiminished as his rapport with pianist John Taylor. Their collaborations have involved big bands, duets and groups of all sizes in between. Taylor's touch and chordal sensitivity have much to do with the choices Wheeler makes in his improvisations. Their affinity is striking throughout, nowhere more than in the bright counterpoint of “Canter # 5" and the final deep chords of “Old Ballad."

Bassist Steve Swallow joins them here, adding a third voice and his versatility. Swallow was one of the first bassists after Monk Montgomery to be as convincing on the electric instrument as on the acoustic. He creates not only bass lines of distinctive rhythmic power and tonal purity but also, on “Aneba," “Fortune's Child" and “Old Ballad," middle- and upper-register “guitar" solos of considerable lyricism.

Wheeler, one of the most admired composers in jazz, wrote the ten pieces. They combine into a whole that has the qualities of a suite. Some of the titles—"Now and Now Again," “Ever After," “Old Ballad"—match the album's sense of pensive nostalgia, but when Wheeler rips one of his bracing slides into the stratosphere or takes a surprise harmonic sidetrip, we are very much in the present with an ageless musician.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved.

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