REVIEW: Kenny Wheeler – An Evocation at Cadogan Hall (2015 EFG LJF)

The trumpet octet which opened both halves of the concert
directed by Nick Smart (second from right)

Kenny Wheeler – An Evocation
(Cadogan Hall. 19th November. 2015 EFG LJF. Review by Mike Collins) 


How many musicians does it take to evoke a giant of jazz?  Sometimes on Thursday evening it was just two (Norma Winstone duetting with Ralph Towner or Dave Holland), sometimes three (Nikki Iles with Holland and Martin France) or four (sprinkle a little Mark Lockheart).  There there were quintets (the last Kenny quintet with a couple of deps or Evan Parker’s Foxes Fox) and larger ensembles as well as small, with an appearance by the London Vocal Project, a not quite big band of Kenny’s collaborators and a younger brass group welcoming the audience at the start of each set, with fanfares à la Wheeler delivered from a balcony above the stage.

The two sections of the evening unfolded as first three mini- sets and then after the break, a shifting cast of collaborators with Dave Holland. The weight of expectation on necessarily cameo performances by some of the best musicians on the planet could have been too much, but there was a flow and coherence to the evening whether it was Wheeler’s writing, repertoire or mindset that was the stimulus for a performance. 


First up, the last quintet were in the groove from the first note of the tango Sly Eyes, Gwilym Simcock’s liquid, lyricism notching the temperature up. Henry Lowther guesting on The Long Waiting unfurled the familiar leaping, shifting melody and the air crackled.  Ralph Towner with Norma Winstone, produced one the glistening moments of magic that peppered the evening as they played Celèste written, according to Towner, on a recording session while Kenny and the band waited. The connection and communication continued through Foxes Fox’s free improv set, a band that had extended Wheeler a frequently taken up standing invitation to sit in.  The second part of the evening had Holland, the anchor on so many of the great recordings, orchestrating proceedings.

The London Vocal Project with Nikki Iles (left) Dave Holland, Mark Lockheart
and Martin France
After his duet with Winstone, The London Vocal Project leapt around the soaring melodies like a single voice, Humpty Dumpty another standout moment and Mark Lockheart’s playing simply beautiful before even that was capped with Know Where You Are. Nikki Iles’ arrangement for the line-up reduced from the original Large Ensemble, set this listeners pulse racing dangerously fast.  The suite is deservedly celebrated and the switching metres, ear grabbing rhythmic hooks and melodies that seem to touch deep and flower were brought to vibrant life.

Kenny Wheeler was of course a prodigious performer on the trumpet and flugel horn and we left with a fabulous solo recording ringing in our ears, a lovely piece of theatre to end an evening of sublime music and music making.

The closing nonet: (L-R) Nikki Iles, Norma Winstone, Henry Lowther,
Nick Smart, John Paricelli, Dave Holland, Mark Lockheart
Stan  Sulzmann, Martin France


Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

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