Kenny Wheeler, the British Canadian-expat trumpeter and composer, was 77 when he made this album two years ago, but if time now marginally narrows his power (he plays the more user-friendly flugelhorn throughout), his improvisations still sound like nobody else's – and his skills as a composer/arranger seem to be blossoming afresh. Wheeler has had a regular association with Italy's accomplished Colours Jazz Orchestra, and he's the principal soloist and conceptual master of this fine session, featuring seven standards and one original. There's a recurring pattern, in which loose, often understated and time-juggling overtures evolve into grooving solo sections and then exultant finales, in which the orchestra is given a new set of rich collective variations on the original theme. But it never sounds like a formula, and the sonorities recall all kinds of large-scale jazz, from the Birth of the Cool music via Gil Evans to Maria Schneider. A new star in Wheeler's dark-blue firmament is Italian singer Diana Torto, a pure-toned virtuoso Wheeler deploys as he does Norma Winstone – as an unmannered lyrics singer, as an improvising instrument, and as an extra horn within collective jams.
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