As they showed last month at London's Pizza Express Jazz Club, London, in the company of the excellent young American saxist Jon Irabagon, the long-standing partnership of composer and flugelhornist Kenny Wheeler and pianist John Taylor still flourishes, despite the brassman's 81 years. This is a 2006 session for Wheeler and Taylor, plus that most elegantly musical of bass guitarists, Steve Swallow, playing 10 fresh Wheeler originals that display his familiar yet constantly retempered mix of casually-cantering swingers, camouflaged Latin dances and phlegmatic bruised ballads. Wheeler's lower-range long notes are tremulous but expressive, and his shapely double-time playing, afterthought-like resolving notes and trademark plaintive squeal still add up to an inimitable improvising style that explores an equally unique compositional vision. Wheeler sounds serenely poised amid Swallow's bouncy bass-walk and Taylor's copious and beautifully struck variations on Any How, pianist and bassist make a captivating duo exchange out of the lively Ever After, and the typically sighing slow themes of Now and Now Again and Old Ballad feature plangent Wheeler variations bathed in the brighter light of his clean upper-range phrasing. Its lyrical, low-key jazz chamber music, but much more evocative than its casual delivery might suggest.
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