Review: Kenny Wheeler

Some people reckon they can always judge the quality of a Chinese restaurant by how many Chinese families eat in them. So, I’m asking myself this morning, after being at a gig where a large part of the audience were musicians: what does the quantity of musicians (rather than “industry people”) in the audience tell you about a gig?

And while I’m asking myself, I’ll happily ask anyone out there reading this for your thoughts?

There is probably no other jazz musician in London with such a dedicated musician following from all generations as Kenny Wheeler. He was out at the Vortex last night with a quintet : Stan Sulzmann on tenor sax, John Parricelli on guitar, Chris Laurence on bass and Martin France on drums, for the first of two nights there.

Kenny Wheeler will be eighty next year. He played last night seated, but his economy of utterance and of movement can produce moments of wonder: when Wheeler states a melody, it definitely stays stated. He sits still, occupies his ground, keeps the flugelhorn pointing straight out – like one of those portraits that looks at you wherever you are in the room – and speaks absolutely loud and clear.

Most of the programme- which I arrived at late and was obliged to leave early- was of Wheeler’s compositions: a wistful opener Kind Folk, a jaunty The Imminent Immigrant, the punchy tango Sly Eyes, the hauntingly sinuous melody of Jigsaw. The first half closer Arthur Schwartz’s By Myself gave drummer Martin France the opportunity to stretch out.

Chris Laurence does the impossible on a bass with incredible mobility and accuracy. And a smile. John Parricelli is the complete musician whether adding to a texture or soloing. Stan Sulzmann, who MC’d the evening with good hmourr and modesty is a world-class gentle giant of the British jazz scene, and his musical dialogues with/ making-space-for/adding-to/ harmonizing-with….is a demonstration of everything music among civilized people can and should be about.

If one of the Vortex team can, they will squeeze you in tonight, and you’d be a fool not to let it happen, Go and hear a legend of the music..

Categories: miscellaneous

3 replies »

  1. I saw Kenny Wheeler last night (Tuesday) – I thought it was good but not excellent. Kenny seemed to be playing a bit flat.

    The numbers that really worked for me were the more abstract, freer pieces – there was a long free piece towards the end of the second set (didn't catch the name!)where all the musicians were playing very loose and open – it was beautiful.

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