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The Numinosum Blog
Where IS Kenny Wheeler?
"The Wheeler sound is one of the most distinctive in the history of the jazz trumpet. A thin, overblown note is followed by a florid flurry, the high squeal by a long low note he rolls around his mouth like a chewy mint. Although his phrases are bordered, like blotting paper in ink, with romanticism, the comforting phrase is superseded by the querulous, a moment of tenderness by a scream of panic. He has his trademark tics, but is incapable of producing a hackneyed phrase. Like words from a prophet, every note counts." - Sholto Byrnes in The Independent, 20 August 2002 (quoted on guitarist John Parricelli's website and borrowed from Wikipedia)
In the wrap up of Patrick Jarenwattananon's Jazz Now series over at NPR's A Blog Supreme, unless I missed something, I noticed that Kenny Wheeler's name comes up only once: for his great 1997 album Angel Song, which is technically out of bounds of the Jazz Now criteria of albums released in the last 10-years (if you don't know, Jazz Now asks a few jazz stalwarts to introduce "new listeners to new jazz, five hand-picked albums at a time.")
I thought if any jazzer could turn new listeners to jazz, it would be him. So the Jazz Now series got me thinking where is Kenny Wheeler? Because while in the last 10 years or so he has put out a number of albums under his own name, as a sideman, or in conjunction with groups like the Upper Austrian Jazz Orchestra, it seems to me, with my own parochial view of the jazz world, like he's no longer considered in the vanguard of things. Or even in the discussion. Granted, Kenny Wheeler's arguably most influential and best recordings were from the 1970's, 1980's and early 1990's (Angel Song, excepted) but those albums are certainly some of the most continually listenable and enjoyable albums: Gnu High (1976), Deer Wan (1978), Music for Large & Small Ensembles (1990) and all of the Azimuth CDs (with the wonderful Norma Winstone and John Taylor) are all great examples of the exciting performances and excellent compositional acumen and fecundity to be found on most Kenny Wheeler recordings. For me his compositions (and trumpet/flügelhorn playing) always seem pregnant with a sort of "looking-off-into-the-distance" quality; a certain warm autumnity reflecting a sense of life's joys and sorrows. An air of the mysterious and a hint of melancholy or perhaps wistfulness, even on up-tempo pieces, pervades his sound world and while not directly influencing my own musical development (I didn't come to his music until about 12 years ago or so), I, nonetheless, find his music continually appealing and attractive and could see how a layperson, with limited knowledge or exposure to jazz, could as well. So where is Kenny Wheeler?
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 1:48 PM
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