Kenny Wheeler: Songs for Quintet review – final set from jazz’s modest maestro

(ECM)

Recorded at Abbey Road in December 2013, and mixed in time for the modest maestro to hear the results before his death last September, this final Kenny Wheeler session is released to mark what would have been his 85th birthday. Following the widespread tributes to Wheeler’s freethinking virtuosity, it would be all too easy to cheer his swansong – but his sound does retain much of its old melancholy tenderness here, and in the context of this set’s beautiful pieces and elegant improvisation, some hesitant flugelhorn moments mostly just reinforce the hypnotic humanity of the music. The floaty shuffle of Jigsaw, with its softly euphoric rising melody unfurled by Wheeler and tenor saxist Stan Sulzmann (who is superb throughout the set), Martin France’s military-tattoo under the Carla Bley-like tango Sly Eyes, the impressionistic free-jazz slither of 1076 and the blues-bop of Old Time all confirm how diverse in theme and mood this album is. Guitarist John Parricelli and bassist Chris Laurence complete the lineup, an ideal ensemble to join one of jazz’s most instantly recognisable voices on his last trip to a studio.

Contributor

John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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