Kenny Wheeler Big Band


CD CHOICE: The Long Waiting CAM Jazz*****

Kenny Wheeler is at an age when most musicians, however great, are resting decorously on their laurels. But the trumpeter and composer, known for his almost pathological modesty, has never been much of a fan of laurels. He still spends four hours a day practising his instrument and another four hours writing new music.

That Wheeler is still doing so at the age of 82 is a testament both to his stamina and to his commitment as an artist. That he should still be producing new work the equal of anything in his illustrious back catalogue is a gift to the world.

Wheeler was born in Canada and has been based in London since the early 1950s. He was a leading member of the free jazz movement that flourished in England during the 1970s. However, thanks to the economics of the jazz life, Europe’s most influential and original jazz composer was forced to make his living as a session player for much of that time, and his horn turns up in the most unlikely places – including, legend has it, on the theme tune to the classic children’s TV series Mr Benn.

But all the time he was writing his own music, and it was as a composer and bandleader that Wheeler finally rose to international prominence in the 1980s, releasing a string of now-classic recordings for the ECM label, which culminated in the Big Band recording that many regard as his masterpiece, Music for Small and Large Ensembles(1990).

Those who have worn that gorgeous record smooth will be overjoyed – in as much as a Wheeler fan could ever evince such an emotion – to hear that the composer has once more assembled his Big Band and has once more put before them a book of his own compositions.

His ear is as attuned to the beauty of melancholy as it ever was. His bittersweet harmonies remain so distinctive that even soloists as strong as pianist John Taylor and saxophonist Stan Sulzman can’t escape their wistful embrace. And Wheeler’s trademark flugelhorn (he solos on every tune) is as agile and as touching as ever. The Long Waitingwas worth every minute.