Jazz CD Reviews

Kenny Wheeler – The Long Waiting – CamJazz

Wheeler has waited twenty-two years to put together a big band venture.

Published on June 6, 2012

Kenny Wheeler – The Long Waiting – CamJazz

Kenny Wheeler – The Long Waiting – CamJazz CAM 5044, 68:33 [5/8/2012] ****: 

(Kenny Wheeler – flugelhorn; Pete Churchill – conductor; Diana Torto – vocals; Ray Warleigh – alto saxophone; Duncan Lamont – alto saxophone; Stan Sulzmann – tenor saxophone; Julian Arguelles – baritone saxophone; Henry Lowther – baritone saxophone; Derek Watkins – baritone saxophone; Tony Fisher – trumpet; Nick Smart – trumpet; Dave Horler – trumpet; Mark Nightingale – trumpet; Barnaby Dickinson – trombone; Dave Stewart – bass trombone; John Taylor – piano; John Parricelli – guitar; Chris Lauence – bass; Martin France – drums)

At eighty-two, it would be understandable if veteran jazz man Kenny Wheeler wanted to take it easy. But that won’t happen with the expatriated Canadian trumpeter/composer. In 1952, Wheeler moved to England, playing with Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes and Tommy Whittle. Additionally, he performed with a short-lived Eric Burdon and The Animals Big Band. Continuing with larger ensembles, his first album Windmill Tilter (with the John Dankworth Band) introduced his composition and arrangement skills to the public.

Additionally, Wheeler was a part of the free improvisational movement in London (which he still embraces to this day). His 1973 album, Song For Someone, merged big band and improvisation, and was voted Album Of The Year by Melody Maker magazine. At the same time, he explored smaller ensemble projects and used Keith Jarrett as a sideman. He played trumpet for the Anthony Braxton Quartet and was a member of the chamber jazz group, Azimuth. The 1997 release, Angel Song, received critical praise for its drummer-free quartet that included Bill Frisell, Dave Holland and Lee Konitz.

To the delight of his fans, Wheeler has released The Long Waiting. Eight impeccably arranged pieces of music for big band feature an assortment of veteran players (many of whom have recorded with Wheeler). From the opening swell of “Canter N. 6” it is clear that the musicians are embracing the compositions. As the piano, bass and drum establish a punctuated rhythm, alto and tenor saxophones solo and then get folded into a larger instrumental chorus. Wheeler is still adept at horn (in this case, flugelhorn) as the ominous, melodious undercurrent is sustained. The band is structured for multi-layered swells, interacting with artistic precision. Whether in unison or counterpoint, the flow of the music is prominently emphasized. On “Four, Five, Six”, the group coalesces around Wheeler’s solo. There is a bass solo (Chris Laurence) that is supported by fellow rhythm section members John Taylor (piano) and Martin France (drums). Then it is turned over to John Parricelli, whose guitar solo is discreetly fluid.

The big band lineup has an equally large sound.  Four trumpets (Tony Fisher, Nick Smart, Dave Horler and Mark Nightingale), three baritone saxophonists (Julian Arguelles, Henry Lowther and Derek Watkins), two alto saxophonists (Ray Warleigh, Duncan Lamont), dual tenor saxophones (Stan Sulzman, Julian Siegel), a trombone (Barnaby Dickinson) and bass trombone (Dave Stewart), intermingle in a variety of frameworks. On the title cut, the textured sound of the horns and reeds is superb. Singer, Diana Torto adds her considerable vocalese to expand the cinematic feel of the ensemble. Effervescent on “Enowena”, she interacts with Wheeler and company as an additional instrument, especially on an extended solo. This track is exceptional, with Taylor unleashing a cascading piano run. The melody themes develop with subtle, catchy time signature changes.

The group stretches out with big band swagger on “Canter N. 1/ Old Ballad”. Adopting an up tempo swing tempo, Parricelli executes an impressive solo on the first movement. As the arrangements shifts to ballad structure, Julian Siegel crafts a wistful, silky tenor part. Regardless of the individual play, the totality of the band shines on every number.

Wheeler has waited twenty-two years to put together a big band venture. Here’s hoping that the next one won’t take so long.

TrackList: Canter N. 6; Four, Five, Six; The Long Waiting; Seven Eight Nine; Enowena; Comba N. 3; Canter N. 1/Old Ballad; Upwards

—Robbie Gerson




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