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Hard Rubber Orchestra: Suite for Hard Rubber Orchestra (Justin Time) / Ingrid Jensen & Steve Treseler: Invisible Sounds (Whirlwind)

Review of two albums that pay tribute to the late trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler

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Cover of Hard Rubber Orchestra album Kenny Wheeler: Suite for Hard Rubber Orchestra
Cover of Hard Rubber Orchestra album Kenny Wheeler: Suite for Hard Rubber Orchestra

For most of his career, Canadian-born, British-based Kenny Wheeler was known chiefly as a trumpeter and bandleader. His was hardly the typical jazz trajectory—how many other jazz musicians have a list of collaborators that includes John Dankworth, Anthony Braxton, Lee Konitz, Joni Mitchell, Bill Bruford, and David Sylvian?—nor was his approach to composition and improvisation in any way business as usual.

Over time, though, Wheeler became more revered as a composer than a performer. To some degree, this was because his acolytes wound up in teaching positions, but it mostly derived from his unorthodox yet specific approach to harmony. Always highly melodic, he encouraged soloists to play down harmonic abstractions in favor of a more lyric, vocalized line.

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Originally Published