LP REVIEW: Kenny Wheeler – Deer Wan



Kenny Wheeler – Deer Wan
(ECM 1102. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)


The great Canadian trumpeter, flugelhorn player and mischievous pun-meister Kenny Wheeler recorded Deer Wan in 1977 and it was released on Manfred Eicher’s ECM label the following year. Now as part of ECM’s vinyl revival it’s back in print in this format, and is one of the catalogue’s outstanding reissues, showing Wheeler’s skill as a writer and performer in the context of an emphatically talented group.

Peace For Five opens with Jan Garbarek’s searching, sighing, rhapsodic tenor until Wheeler steps in to solo and exchange comments with John Abercrombie’s electric guitar. Then an extended, sinewy solo by Dave Holland on upright bass explores the structure of the piece before suddenly accelerating the pace so the combo can jump back on the tune, like bank robbers leaping into a getaway car. Emerging from the fraught and meticulously interlocking ensemble, Abercrombie plays an at first beautifully piercing, then fatly sonorous, bell-like solo. Garbarek concludes with long, serpentine lines and Holland’s bass becomes a heartbeat, clearing the way for a characteristically complex excursion by Jack DeJohnette on drums, sounding like a whole ensemble on his own until the actual ensemble reasserts itself and shows what they can do.

The brief and haunting 3/4 in the Afternoon has a bittersweet quality with Ralph Towner’s 12 string guitar deftly fashioning the mood and in some ways anticipating the approach of Bill Frisell, who would also become a mainstay of ECM, starting in 1983. Both Garbarek and Wheeler fit in beautifully with Towner’s sound here.

At eleven minutes and twenty two seconds, Sumother Song is actually two pieces, at first emerging out of a skeletal, steady, measured beat to develop into something thoughtfully and passionately sculpted by Garbarek before undergoing a complete metamorphosis — becoming pacey and breezy, with a Latin feel. Wheeler plays with great openness, letting fresh air into the piece, John Abercrombie covering his back all the way. The guitarist then moves forward to play a moving and meditative conclusion that tends towards, and eventually arrives at, silence. Finally Wheeler and Garbarek state and restate a signature phrase, at first in competition, then agreement.

Deer Wan sees Wheeler and Garbarek in close cahoots again, adding section after section to a rising tower of sound, accompanied by the delicate patter of cymbal effects from DeJohnette. Changing from the vertical to the horizontal, Wheeler and Garbarek essay a languid chase in a sort of postmodern reinterpretation of the West Coast sound, DeJohnette playing strong and articulate support, Abercrombie and Holland covering their flanks.

This is a 180 gram piece of vinyl mastered from the original analog master tapes, which are audibly in good condition. It scores highly as an audiophile artefact, but more importantly as excellent music. The album thoughtfully includes a download code, so your digital needs are also attended to.

LINK: Product Link at Proper Music

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