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July/August 2005

Kenny Wheeler
What Now?
CAM Jazz

Kenny Wheeler's flugelhorn tone sounds so rich and warm that it could sustain interest without any accompaniment. Which means that the lack of a drummer on What Now? is only noticed by stepping outside of the textures of the music-and what's the point of that? Bassist Dave Holland, pianist John Taylor-both longtime Wheeler collaborators-and tenor saxophonist Chris Potter fill out a quartet that sounds subdued even at bright tempos.

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Donald Lee

Kenny Wheeler

Holland opens "March Mist" with a solo full of quick runs, a few double stops and finally a slide to the low register before launching into the driving tempo. Wheeler exploits this energy in his solo, combining fast runs and long, sustained tones. The noisy clusters that open Taylor's piano solo pick up on the same energy. Later, the title track puts Wheeler and Potter at odds with sometimes dissonant harmonies, but that sets up a contrast between the two soloists: Wheeler sounding cautious while the always impressive Potter comes off as more gregarious.

Wheeler's writing contains some graceful harmonic tricks that the band devours, but the languid mood might require several listens to make sure the subtleties don't simply float into the open air.

Originally published in July/August 2005
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