REVIEW: Kenny Wheeler’s Windmill Tilter at Music in the Garden

The LJO at Wavendon, with Henry Lowther (standing)
taking the Kenny Wheeler solo part.

Kenny Wheeler’s Windmill Tilter
(London Jazz Orchestra at Music in the Garden, Wavendon. 28th June 2015. Review by Tony Kelsey)

Almost fifty years after it was recorded, Kenny Wheeler’s Windmill Tilter (1968)  has finally been given two full live performances by the big band of which he was a founder member, the first at the Vortex, the second at the Laine/Dankworth Centre just South of Milton Keynes, as part of the month-long music series “Music in the Garden”.  The packed audience in the garden at Wavendon was on tenterhooks for this once-in-a-generation occasion, as the 20-piece orchestra walked onto the open air stage.

The afternoon opened with a sumptuous version of John Dankworth’s Tomorrow’s World theme which was immensely satisfying and benefitted from Pete Hurt soloing on flute and later tenor (compare and contrast to the version to be found on JD’s Lifeline album). The following numbers were variously penned by LJO members Robbie Robson, Henry Lowther, Josephine Davies and Stuart Hall, an the first half of this set ended with Noel Langley’s extraordinary arrangement of Edward Elgar’s  Nimrod, which must be a first for jazz.

Following the intermission, the orchestra reassembled in a slightly different configuration, for as leader and conductor Scott Stroman explained, John Dankworth had his own ideas about how a big band should be arranged to obtain the maximum sonic balance. Although this meant one less trombone, the bass notes were more than compensated for by former Dankworth band member Dave Powell on tuba.

From the first notes, the band presented a spine-tingling version of Windmill Tilter which even to those very familiar with this suite was hugely gratifying. Had it not been for John Dankworth’s largesse in commissioning Kenny Wheeler to write the piece when the trumpeter was out of action for a time, British jazz history might have been quite different.

Two trumpeters Robbie Robson and the redoubtable Henry Lowther took turns to perform the trumpet and flugelhorn parts previously played by Wheeler himself. Apart from being extremely moving, this was an edifying experience. Other soloists included Pete Hurt on tenor, Stuart Hall, taking on the mantle of the original “Windmill Tilter” guitarist, John McLaughlin and the great Chris Laurence, depping for the LJO’s usual bass player, Alec Dankworth, taking over the bass lines formerly meted out by Dave Holland on the Fontana recording. The afternoon concluded with a short version Duke Ellington’s  Tonight I Shall Sleep (With a Smile on My Face) which John Dankworth had always regarded highly.

Had the late Sir John and Kenny Wheeler been around to hear this performance they would have been justifiably proud and the London Jazz Orchestra too should give themselves a collective pat on the back for carrying off a brilliant rendition of this great jazz work.

Music in the Garden

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