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Kenny Wheeler: Songs for Quintet

Songs for Quintet is a surprisingly strong benediction upon the career of Kenny Wheeler, who passed away due to a long illness nine months after this December 2013 recording, his final session with other musicians. Wheeler, on flugelhorn, lacks the voluptuous tone and impressive depth of phrasing that marked his prime, but he plays well enough to fulfill the trademark lyricism and ingenuity embedded in these nine new and old original compositions. Deploying the same pianoless instrumentation as his classic Deer Wan, the quintet is especially evocative when Wheeler’s horn is twined with the tenor sax of Stan Sulzmann or the guitar of John Parricelli.

There is a nice mixture of familiar strengths and subtle surprises. “Pretty Liddle Waltz” reiterates Wheeler’s mastery of the mysterious in that song form, with haunting horns and a steady, sometimes spooky pulse from Parricelli and bassist Chris Laurence. “Old Time” is a whimsical, harmonically rich take on “How It Was Then” from Wheeler’s stint in Azimuth. The tango “Sly Eyes” is beefed up with Martin France’s martial beats, compared to its version on Moon with John Taylor from 2001. And both “The Long Waiting” and “Canter No. 1” are quintet reductions from the big-band treatments they received on Wheeler’s The Long Waiting from 2012.

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