Kenny Wheeler/Norma Winstone/London Vocal Project – Mirrors
(Edition Records EDN1083. CD Review by Chris Parker)
A rare treat, this: poems by Stevie Smith, Lewis Carroll and W. B. Yeats set to music by Kenny Wheeler, sung by Norma Winstone and the 24-piece London Vocal Project (conductor Pete Churchill).
Alongside Wheeler’s characteristically plangent, intensely expressive flugelhorn, Mark Lockheart plays saxophones, Nikki Iles piano, Steve Watts bass and James Maddren drums – all putting in impeccable performances – but it is the appropriateness, elegance and touching grace of the Wheeler melodies that draws the ear throughout this eleven-track album.
The one Yeats poem (‘The Lover Mourns for the Loss of Love’), in particular, is beautifully handled by Winstone in a performance that expresses all the poem’s dark pathos without straying into sentimentality, but the choir also breezes attractively through the opener, Carroll’s ‘Humpty Dumpty’ (their diction faultless, every word perfectly enunciated) and subsequent features, whether they’re backing the flawless Winstone or taking centre stage themselves.
Stevie Smith’s poems, too (‘The Hat’ especially delightful, its eccentric humour intelligently captured by Winstone), lend themselves well to Wheeler’s unfussy but memorable treatments, and with the whole set leavened by Carroll’s whimsy, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, classy but utterly unpretentious album, to be performed at Kings Place on 25 May.