Kenny Wheeler, one of the composing and improvising giants of European jazz for 40 years or more, has waited a long time to write for a string quartet. Other People presents Wheeler's delicate brass sound (nowadays slightly querulous) and John Taylor's mercurial piano ruminations as the only improvising elements within the kind of poignant, doomed-romance, movie-theme setting that makes Wheeler's composing recognisable from the first fluttering cadence. He wrote all the pieces here, leaving a couple as through-composed works with no soloing at all. Wheeler's shy, glancing trumpet and flugelhorn lines, with their odd intervals and briefly ecstatic ascents to soft squeals, work beautifully with the lightness of the string group. And the melodies often shake off the leader's tendency to ennui, sounding unexpectedly and impulsively vivacious. Wheeler has written for the strings with real sympathy, folding subtly intertwining lines into his trademark materials of disguised Latin slow-swingers, low-key tangos and yearning ballads. His own improvising ingeniously plays off the shifting rhythms. Taylor's spare piano interventions (at times reminiscent of Keith Jarrett) are so sharply in contrast to the prevailing tonal atmosphere that they hugely expand the quiet eloquence of the set.
John Fordham is the Guardian's main jazz critic. He has written several books on the subject, reported on it for publications including Time Out, Sounds, Wire and Word, and contributed to documentaries for radio and TV. He is a former editor of Time Out, City Limits and Jazz UK, and regularly contributes to BBC Radio 3's Jazz on 3