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Kenny Wheeler - Dream Sequence

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Artist: Kenny Wheeler

Album: Dream Sequence

Label: Psi

Review date: Nov. 16, 2003

There is little in jazz music more instantly recognizable than the sweetly fractured sound of a Kenny Wheeler performance – from the delicate latticework of his arranging to the melancholic inevitability of his modulations and chord changes. His new disc Dream Sequence, which has been issued on Evan Parker’s Psi label, goes far in reaffirming the flugelhornist’s singular voice, the enduring power of his compositions, and the passion with which other great musicians perform his pieces.

Recorded over a several-year period at London’s Gateway Studios, this gem captures Wheeler in a number of different settings. It opens with a wondrous quintet version of “Unti” – from his ECM disc Angel Song – and I love the way Tony Levin gives it extra contrapuntal oomph here, not undermining the stairstepping of Wheeler’s flugelhorn, Ray Warleigh’s alto, and John Parricelli’s excellently atmospheric guitar, but instead shadowing them. Though there’s a general elegance (not to say politeness) to these compositions that one wouldn’t necessarily associate with Wheeler’s background in free playing, Levin’s contribution to these tracks is the most percussively rambunctious voice in Wheeler’s music since Edward Vesala’s work on Around 6. The same can be said for the sextet version of Angel Song’s “Kind Folks”, slowed down considerably and given a resolutely proud reading by the band (kudos to Laurence and Levin here).

There’s a lovely duet – “Drum Sequence” – which confirms Wheeler’s free prowess. Levin creates shimmering cymbal patterns for Wheeler to explore low-end melancholy, while his strobe-light toms push the leader to some surprisingly hot melodic invention. The title track is an excellent trio combining Wheeler, Parricelli, and the hard-bitten lyric voice of Sulzmann. And lo and behold, a sweet surprise in a solo track (“Hearken”) enriches the proceedings as well. How nice that the record features miniatures like these, so that you really get a sense of the breadth of Wheeler’s activities over the last decade or so.

But of all these goodies, one of the finest treats is the ever-evolving partnership of Wheeler and Parricelli, heard best on the fine quartet “Cousin Marie”. These two have come quite a long way since the mid-’90s, as is audible from the guitarist’s exquisite, inventive comping amid the fluttery flugelhorn lines. There’s so much space in this music, particularly in Parricelli’s seductively restrained solos and in Warleigh’s lilting flute complement to the gentle prodding of “Nonetheless”. I don’t dig so much on the quartet version of “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing”, though it is a good place to check out Laurence’s chops. But on as varied a recording as this, tastes will vary. One thing’s for sure: Wheeler is still at the top of his game.

By Jason Bivins

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