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Kenny Wheeler Big Band

The Kenny Wheeler Big Band:

  • Kenny Wheeler - trumpet/composer
  • Norma Winstone voice - Gwilym Simcock piano
  • John Parricelli guitar - Evan Parker tenor saxophone
  • Julian Arguelles saxophone - Duncan Lamont saxophone
  • Stan Sulzmann saxophone - Ray Warleigh saxophone
  • John Barclay trumpet - Ian Hamer trumpet
  • Henry Lowther trumpet - Derek Watkins trumpet
  • Gordon Campbell trombone - Barnaby Dickinson trombone
  • Richard Henry trombone - Mark Nightingale trombone
  • Chris Laurence double bass - Martin France drums

Kenny Wheeler is our George Gershwin” was how saxophonist Lee Konitz put it, a statement that encapsulates the esteem in which this famously self effacing trumpeter and composer is held among lovers of great music everywhere. And there can’t be a more satisfying way to start our year long celebration of the output of Munich’s illustrious ECM label than in the company of one of its most revered artists, himself celebrating his 75th birthday in the company of longtime stalwarts from the highest echelons of UK jazz.

There is much for Wheeler to celebrate, not least a corpus of compositions that has been as profoundly influential in the modern era as those of Gil Evans and before that, Gershwin and Ellington. His genius for tonality and instrumental colour, his ability to reconcile the finer elements of 20th century chromaticism within pastoral melodic settings that evoke the folksong are the product of a unique musical mind. As with all great composers, his music has acquired an instantly identifiable signature, a buoyant melancholia that satisfies mature emotion, distilled into ageless songs that are elegiac and reflective, defiant and uplifting.

His playing, most notably on flugelhorn, eloquently confirms the dictum that in jazz, composition flows from improvisation, and is similarly imbued with the lyrical, vocal quality that is the music’s most elusive prize. Wheeler’s open minded pursuit harks back to the late 50’s when performing with John Dankworth at Newport, forging a deep involvement with the burgeoning free music a decade later in The Spontaneous Music Ensemble, then an extended period with Anthony Braxton up to the mid 70’s.

Since his 1975 debut Gnu High, he has led a slew of landmark small group recordings for ECM, with stellar labelmates like Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Jan Garbarek and Ralph Towner. Music for Small & Large Ensembles, his 1990 magnum opus, ranks among the greatest big band recordings in the jazz pantheon, and it is to this format he returns for his birthday celebrations. As with any good party, he has gathered his closest friends around him, eighteen of them. It’s an illustrious, inter-generational line up that includes old friends like saxophonist Evan Parker and singer Norma Winstone, themselves two of Europe’s greatest musicians, new blood like the remarkable young pianist Gwilym Simcock, and a host of other luminary players with whom he is intimately familiar such as trumpeter Henry Lowther, drummer Martin France, guitarist John Parricelli and saxophonist Julian Arguelles.

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