Friday, November 02, 2007

It Takes Two: Kenny Wheeler's Understatement.

The album, It Takes Two, by Kenny Wheeler has been on general issue now for over a year. It was released in June 2006 by CamJazz, the Italian label launched in 2000.

Kenny Wheeler is such an understated and subtle artist that his music is not something the discerning listener jumps carelessly into. His playing has a way of sneaking up on you. Of winding its way into your consciousness so, only after some time, do you become aware of how good it is, how perfectly crafted and performed. Add this to the fact that on this outing he is accompanied by John Abercrombie, a supremely lyrical and perceptive guitarist and it becomes apparent that time has to pass before a judgement can be made.

Having said that this is the first of his albums to leave me a just little disappointed. That is not to say there is some beautiful music here, some fine playing and performances. A slightly unsatisfying recording would be perhaps be the best description. Outside of Kenny’s flugelhorn, there are the contributions of the above mentioned John Abercrombie, John Parricelli – a British guitarist and the Swedish bass player Anders Jormin.

Highlights of the album are My New Hat, a dreamy number that opens with Jormin’s bowed bass striking a distinctly Moorish motif before the two guitars, (electric and acoustic) enter, creating a space over which the flugelhorn floats in its melody. It Takes Two follows - a typical Wheeler piece of music - the horn uncovering hidden harmonic and melodic spaces, then bending into the upper or lower registers in those sudden turns of which he is so capable, while the guitars trade an almost pizzicato style of soloing and accompaniment. But it is on track three, Comba Nr 3, that the combined talents of all four musicians come best together. A beautiful, haunting melody, full of, again, Moorish hints, southern European folkloric motifs and the north American urban landscape. The spacing of the instruments, their timing, their presence and absence at critical points make the track the prefect vehicle for Wheeler’s unique musical sense.

Other high points are Love Theme from Spartacus, just the two guitars with fingers sliding and the occasional sigh or grunt delightfully adding to its immediacy. One of Many, a lovely flowing piece which John Abercrombie augments with his clear, singing guitar lines. And, Fanfare, an overdubbed horn piece that brings to mind the Gil Evans – Miles Davis collaboration of Sketches of Spain. The two improvised pieces, no 1 and no 2, are interesting but strictly just that, improvisations, that tempt but do not completely convince of their necessity.

Despite this the album leaves me a little wanting. It seems at times to float away, to become so understated in intent that you find your mind wandering and not wandering as it should into places the music brings it. Nevertheless, such has been Kenny Wheeler’s credibility over the years that it may be it just requires more listening time. That it needs to sink in a little more before the entirety of its musical ideas, its palette becomes apparent.

However in the overall scheme of things these are minor quibbles. This is still an excellent and commendable work. An essential for those who lean to chamber jazz. For those who prefer the subtly of a C├ęzanne over the boldness of a Picasso.

Copyright (C) Peter Millington Nov 2007

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