One of Many
Philip Booth reviews the new release by the flugelhorn great
Hard to believe, but Kenny Wheeler is officially an octogenarian: Has it really been that long since the Canadian-born brass man was breaking ground on the free-jazz scene? His talents as a flugelhorn player, composer and arranger nevertheless remain potent, as he demonstrates on One of Many, an often-surprising three-way collaboration with longtime associate John Taylor on piano and bass guitarist Steve Swallow. Like much of Wheeler’s work, the music here is distinguished by layered subtleties and multiple moments of discovery. These are quietly powerful pieces masquerading as laidback chamber jazz.
Variously using long tones, slurs, low scoops and keening high notes, Wheeler offers a haunting melody and unpredictable solo before yielding to Taylor’s similarly searching lines and lush chording on “Now and Now Again.” Swallow, who wields a felt pick for a sound that’s resonant and clean in lower registers and bell-clear higher up, lays down a circular groove at the start of opener “Phrase 3.” Wheeler joins Swallow with a warm melody and Taylor enters for supportive colourings; following Taylor, Swallow offers pretty, unhurried curlicues that wind down the tune.
The aptly titled “Anticipation” has the flugelhornist and bassist engaging in contrapuntal conversations, while the stately “Old Ballad” indeed sounds like a classic of its kind, with Wheeler essaying a gorgeous theme and Swallow turning in a lyrical solo. And the pianist and bassist go it alone together on “Ever After (duo version),” a gem of intuitive interaction. These 10 pieces sound decidedly forward-looking, like three journeymen players engaging in acts of artistic exploration.