CD: Kenny Wheeler, Song for Someone

(psi)

When composer/trumpeter Kenny Wheeler's right to sit alongside giants like Duke Ellington and Gil Evans is next debated, this CD recovery of a long-lost vinyl classic might clinch the argument.

Wheeler has been a jazz enigma for 40 years; an improviser who avoids every button-pushing audience reflex, and a composer of a curious breed of ethereal melodies that somehow give melancholia a good name. But Wheeler is nowadays regarded as a writer of exquisitely poignant jazz themes, which also open up fascinating possibilities for improvisers.

This album was originally recorded in 1973, when the Canadian expat seemed equally at home in free-improv or the kind of backdrops Gil Evans wrote for Miles Davis in the 1950s and early 1960s. Consequently, Song for Someone curiously unites the cream of Britain's postbop players of the 1970s.

What might be surprising is how vivid much of the music is, considering Wheeler's reputation for the tentative and oblique. Toot-Toot is a call-and-response big-band shouter in which an inquisitive, gently interrogatory melody (Norma Winstone's voice joining the horns), is batted back by the low brass and drums. Ballad Two is a glistening trumpet sunrise with a gathering swing beneath, which ushers in floods of revelatory sax variations.

The set crosses into abstract improv with Derek Bailey's guitar and Evan Parker's brittle, spluttery saxophone chasing away the lissome voice-and-horns overture to Causes Are Events. Drummer Tony Oxley runs the ideal engine room for such an idiomatically varied adventure, and Wheeler's own trumpet and flugelhorn playing have a cutting intensity more rarely heard from him in the years following. Only the minimal liner notes could have used attention, especially considering the significance of Oxley's presence and that of UK sax legend Mike Osborne.

Contributor

John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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