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AOTW May 10-16 Kenny Wheeler


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Well I've finally got the rampant lions off my back at work and am able to announce this week's AOTW. I noticed that we haven't had any Kenny Wheeler so far so hopefully this will fit the bill. It's on ECM so should still (hopefully) be readily available both sides of the Atlantic.


This is a great work of orchestral and small group jazz which features Wheeler's astonishing arranging capabilities (first displayed way back in 1969 I think on 'Windmill Tilter') with the cream of UK jazz of circa 1990 and with some good US ringers such as John Abercrombie in there too. My copy is the 2LP set but presumably ECM also came out with a 2CD box.

Here's the AMG reference:

Music For Large & Small Ensembles

Further thoughts on this fine album to follow - the floor is now open to opinions/thoughts/observations....


Edited by sidewinder
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This is one of my all time favourite discs. And by contrast with Clunky just love Norma Winstone's contributions. But I'm biased!

Disc one is a full Wheeler suite - given the amount he's written over the years its amazing how infrequently he gets to record with this scale of forces. Delicious melodies that you find yourself humming, fabulous improvising. I especially like the closing sequence.

Disc Two falls into three parts.

* Three pieces for full orchestra including one of my favourite Wheeler pieces 'Sea Lady' with Evan Parker doing some great seagull sounds!!!! A beautiful ballad that you sometimes hear sung by others.

* Then five short free-form pieces by duos and trios made up of Taylor/Erskine/Holland/Wheeler.

* And then an absolutely jaw-dropping version of 'By Myself'. I've used this several times with people to illustrate why I like jazz. The way the piece starts in what seems like a random series of notes from fluegel and piano and then gradually picks up pace with Abercrombie, Holland and Erskine joining in allowing the melody to just emerge out of the mist...Fantastic. A performance by the Wheeler/Taylor/Abercrombie/Holland/Erskine quintet.

I saw this band on the tour that accompanied it for Kenny's birthday (60th?) - fantastic concert.

Don't miss the disc recorded around the same time by the quintet alone - 'The Widow in the Window'. My favourite Abercrombie anywhere lies on these sets.

I suspect to many people here this recording will be at the fringes of their jazz interest.

This one lies in my jazz heartland!

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Wow, great choice SW! :tup:tup

There is some excellent writing on this recording. Wheeler's charts really sound like no one else's (to my ears). I love the way he uses Norma's voice to double lead lines, a device that doesn't always work. He uses some really nice cluster voicings for the horns too.

The small group stuff is primo too- I also like his version of "By Myself", a tune associated w/Fred Astaire. There's a tune that should be heard more often.

Does the intro of the first tune remind anyone else of the "Magnificent Seven" theme? :)

For anyone interested in looking at the scores to these pieces, they are published in a book- the same publisher also put out the scores to Maria Schneider's first recording (Evanescence). I think Fred Sturm (who was teaching at Eastman at the time) put these together. I can't tell you the exact publisher 'cause I don't have them in front of me at the moment. I'll get that info when I get a chance. Definitely worth getting if you're a "score hound" though!

We could stand to start a Wheeler thread (is there one already?)- there are many different things he's done that I think many here would like.

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Excellent, I'm glad that this choice has got some positive feedback from the cognescentii :)

Gave the first LP another spin this morning. The track featuring Evan Parker (I think it's the second track on side 1 of LP1) has some stunning playing from him in almost a straight-ahead style. I'm impressed. :tup . That final track on side 1/LP1 is also a mighty fine, swinging number. I really like the way that John Abercrombie's guitar comes through the ensemble sound and adds to the colouration.

As also mentioned above, the first track on side 2 LP1 has a beautiful lead with Winstone's vocal in combination with the Wheeler flugel. A combination that they perfected par excellence on the Azimuth albums with John Taylor (who also sounds great on this set).

Anyone got any thoughts on how this compares with 'Windmill Tilter'?

Edited by sidewinder
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Anyone heard 'Windmill Tilter'?

I played this again on the way to work and was struck again by the penultimate track of the Suite - Consolation.

I'm no musician so struggle to explain what I'm hearing. But here goes. The melody is delicious running for twelve bars. But when it moves back to bar one to start again something happens - I think it shifts key and gives the whole piece an unsettled, otherworldly feel. The way the soloists glide through that is marvellous.

But the moment that really gets me is just before the bass solo - Wheeler has the brass play this spine tingling counter-melody based on the chord sequence. Fantastic.

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A recent purchase this and though not my favourite Wheeler (Gnu High is the first Wheeler I heard and has a special place) it certainly rates very highly with a great cast and Wheelers unusual and distinctive writing. I'm no musician either but his writing has a sadness and beauty I can find nowhere else.

Listening again it has a lovely sound throughout too.

Recommend the recent reissue of Song for Someone on Evan Parkers psi label, for an earlier (1974) recording with a related band.

I too would love to hear Windmill Tilter ...

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There are three other excellent Wheeler CDs for large orchestra that come to mind:

* Kayak - from 1992 on a UK label, ah um. Similar musicians to MFLASE but a little smaller - no guitar or voice.


* The two discs ('Siren's Song' and 'Now and Now Again')from the late 90s Wheeler/Taylor/Winstone did with Canada's Maritime Jazz Orchestra on Justin Time. I especially like the Sweet Ruby Suite on the second disc.



Edited by Bev Stapleton
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Great to see a bit of a Wheeler discussion! I love what I have heard so far (which is not much...). I am still trying to continue my buying freeze as good as I can, and thus I did not pick up this 2CD set - I will put it on my list, though. And thanks everybody for sharing your knowledge!


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  • 2 weeks later...

Haven't played Double Double You in a good while,great rhythm section(Taylor,Holland,Dejohnette)-I recall finding Brecker a bit "shiny"(as usual) for the music-will have to get a new stylus and check it out again.A favourite is the all-European "Around 6" from 79 with Evan Parker,Eje Thelin,Tom Van Der Geld,J.F.Jenny Clark and the incomparable Edward Vesala.Not sure whether it's made it to CD yet,have a feeling it may have.

For the record I like MFLASE in parts but were I to have it on CD,would probably trim it by half-Kayak is well worth checking out if it's still around.

Thanks Bev too, for pointing out another set with the MJO,didn't realise it was released.

Saw the Widow in The Window group in the 100 Club on Oxford Street in the 80's,they cooked it up far more than they did on disc...brilliant.

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I had the wonderful opportunity of spending seven days with Mr. Wheeler last month when he did a comp/performing residency at the university that I teach at.

He is one of most soft-spoken, kindhearted and humble individuals that I have met in many years....the man is truly a reflection of the compositions that he writes.

In one of our first conversations, he told me that while he knew that he created an original voice and approach to the trumpet, his fondest wish was to be able to play bebop to the same standard. Quite a statement from a master musician...one eye on the horizon and one eye on what came before.

He spoke of the awful time spent as strictly a studio musician in London....his adventures in the free jazz scene in London:..."walking into a club and hearing this musical chaos that was not attractive to me at all, sitting in that night, playing a 20 minute schizophrenic solo, much to the enjoyment of those around me, continuing to jam with these folks until I realized that I had something to say in this genre, but never putting my harmonic playing on the backburner."

At 74 years old....born in 1930, his sound is as rich as on any recorings to date.

"Angel Song" being one of my favorite sides (Konitz is all about melody on this...Frisell as well) is full of this melancholy mood music that is attractive to Kenny because, "it makes me feel happy". "Dream Sequence" is a cd of his that he turned me on to that has much of the same repertoire as "Angel Song", but recorded with a different cast of characters ten years earlier and also has a much different "spirit". A 'gotta have' for Kenny fans!

"Free For All" and I played a Kenny Wheeler arrangement or two for big band (Maynard's band in particular)back in the HS days and I never expected that his developement would be so far reaching in the future!

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Double Double You is my favorite Kenny Wheeler record.

Yes, Brecker's sax is "shiny", but that adds a nice contrast to the rather dark compositions. And the rythm section is just amazing, and so are the melodies:long, lyrical, melancholic and weeping lines. In comparison I find "Music for Large and Small Ensembles" contrived and conventional, it's too "pretty" in a lethargic sort of way. I guess it's De Johnette's (and maybe alos Brecker's) folly that is missing here. Also, Wheeler's orchestration lacks variety and dynamics to my ears: he always writes thick chords in a medium dynamic range. Sounds more like a brass piano than a big band to me.

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"Angel Song" being one of my favorite sides (Konitz is all about melody on this...Frisell as well) is full of this melancholy mood music that is attractive to Kenny because, "it makes me feel happy". "Dream Sequence" is a cd of his that he turned me on to that has much of the same repertoire as "Angel Song", but recorded with a different cast of characters ten years earlier and also has a much different "spirit". A 'gotta have' for Kenny fans!

Actually much of Dream Sequence was recorded before Angel Song, with some of the same tunes; then it got added to gradually later on. Oddly fragmented history for the album--I wonder why it took so long to piece together. There's a piece I wrote on it here trying to pick through it carefully:


The tracks on Music for Small & Large Ensembles that matter most to me are the small-group stuff, esp that reading of "By Myself". Nice to have the example of Evan Parker's "jazz" playing though on disc one (& he does just fine). Norma Winstone's lyrics are cloying though--I think I prefer Wheeler's gentle melancholy to remain unverbalized.

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I'm becoming more and more convinced that the way we as individuals hear music is so different as to make comparison very difficult.

Someone couched in one or many of the US traditions will hear Wheeler's music one way; someone, like myself, who discovered that tradition at the same time as hearing the likes of Taylor and Wheeler and Sultzmann and Surman on the radio (and who comes from the same cultural background as at least three of those players) will hear it very differently.

When I hear Brecker playing Wheeler's music it sounds out of place. But, to my ears, Brecker has always sounded anodyne - all huff and puff but no personal sound or feel. Now I know I'm wrong! To someone attuned to Brecker's background I'm sure the heart of the man leaps out. But I know I find myself wishing Surman or Sultzman or Warleigh were in his place!

As regards Norma Winstone's lyrics...well, Norma is my favourite jazz singer. But I agree. Her lyrics are generally somewhat winsome. I tend to just ignore them. What I love is her voice singing those melodies, with words or without. Again, I suspect her singing is so different from traditional jazz singing, so clearly linked to an English way of doing things that she might just be too hard for some to really 'get'.

Miles251, Thanks for sharing your account of meeting Kenny Wheeler. He has always struck me as very, very shy, both on stage and in interviews I've read. There's a painful interview on the AAJ site where he almosts seems to have convinced himself that no-one wants to record him anymore. Very sad to see such self-doubt in a musician who has done what many say they wish to do but don't...gone his own way! The price of that has been to have been greatly underestimated.

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It was my pleasure to share with you and the rest of the board my weeklong "hang" with Kenny. I am revisiting a radio show that we performed on together as I write....

A buddy of mine from Brooklyn played in Kenny's Big Band at the BlueNote quite a few months ago. He warned me of Kenny's "curmudgeon-like" attitude. Upon meeting at the airport, I realized that this attitude was mistaken for acute shyness. He, as you stated, was VERY hesitant to admit his place among the heirarchy of jazz (creative music) trumpeters, not to mention composers. I didn't take this to hedge upon self-doubt...just the attitude of an artist who thinks that he has much more growth to achieve before he's finished.

He mentioned liking the big band music of Basie and Woody Herman quite a lot, but was drawn to Duke because of the elegance and "orchestral" components of his (and Strayhorn's) writing, which explains to me the direction that his own large ensemble takes. I also feel that "Gnu High", released in the 70s helped define the "sound" of ECM, the label. I know that many of you will have thoughts on that!.......Beautiful Man...Beautiful Music.....

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I ordered this one because of this thread, having never heard Kenny Wheeler's music before. Just listened to it.

I liked it, but don't know if this kind of music will be usurping much of what I'm listening to already. The arrangements seem rather simple (will need to listen more), but I like the melodies and the overall flow of the music. I was wary that there would be a singer (too many bad experiences with bad fusion), but I liked it here, especially when it's without words and doubles the melody line.

Disc 1 was the more engaging of the two. I'm a huge Dave Holland fan so it's always nice to hear him play or solo. If Wheeler is limited as a bopper, his few solo flights accomplish a lot musically but "just barely," creating an added quality of tension that I like.

Some of the "free" stuff I can live without, but it never gets to the point where I get annoyed or anything.

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  • 3 years later...
  • 6 months later...

For me, Angel Song was the recording that made me appreciate Wheeler's music much more. I think it is his best recording. You have such a wonderful cast of musicians each being completely empathic with each other and the music. The interplay between them all is really astounding.


I also find It Takes Two! to be quite good too. Gotta love the two guitar lineup of John Abercrombie and John Parricelli and the bass playing of Anders Jormin.


Edited by bluemonk
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