This two-disc set is a dazzling look at Kenny Wheeler's work as a composer. His breadth is stunning, from moody Oliver Nelson and Gil Evans-like expansiveness to compactly propulsive post-bop excursions. The first disc is taken up entirely with the eight-part "Sweet Time Suite." Wheeler's scoring is bracing and emotive. Singer Norma Winstone is on hand for portions of it, offering a gloriously soaring counterpoint to the massed horn section. Wheeler's diverse background serves him well, as he's quite comfortable with both the traditional and the avant-garde (he worked in one of Anthony Braxton's important combos in the mid-'70s). For anyone unfamiliar with this stellar musician's work, this is is an excellent starting point, as is his first album as a leader, the remarkable GNU HIGH.
Kenny Wheeler sticks to flugelhorn exclusively for this unusual yet intimate trio date with pianist John Taylor and electric bassist Steve Swallow (whose nimble playing makes it seem like he is playing an acoustic guitar at times). Together the three veterans explore the leader's stunning originals, most of which are ballads, beginning with the buoyant Brazilian-flavored "Phrase 3." "Anticipation" is a tense affair, with the rhythm section introducing a hypnotic, intricate vamp before Wheeler makes a powerful entrance stating its melancholic theme.
Songs for Quintet, Kenny Wheeler’s final recording, features compositions of relatively recent vintage, plus a fresh approach to “Old Time” – which the Azimuth trio used to play – and “Nonetheless”, a piece introduced on Angel Song. The album was recorded at London’s Abbey Road Studios with four of Kenny’s favourite players. Stan Sulzmann, John Parricelli, Chris Laurence and Martin France work together marvellously as an interactive unit, solo persuasively, and provide support for the tender and lyrical flugelhorn of the bandleader.