|The Reuben Fowler Big Band at the first Kenny Wheeler Benefit Concert
Alto saxophone soloist Sam Mayne. Epic N16, August 2014
Kenny Wheeler Benefit Concert
(Epic, N16. August 15th 2014. Report by Jamie Safiruddin)
Friends, colleagues, family, fans and devotees of the venerable Anglo-Canadian legend Kenny Wheeler gathered on Friday. Their common purpose was to raise money for the man himself who has been unable to work for most of this year for health reasons. The evening was held at Dalston’s ‘Epic’, an unusual and spacious hall that also hosted a projector screen presenting photos of Kenny from projects throughout the 60s/70s and 80s, reminding us of the scope of his career. The evening was arranged and programmed by Evan Parker who has been a friend and colleague of Wheeler’s since their tenure together in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble during the 1960s.
The evening began with a characteristically brief introduction from Parker, who, avoiding a gushing homage as might be tempting, merely told us all the Kenny could “really use some money”. Parker commenced the musical proceedings with a short but brilliantly intense and engaging set of three improvisations, alongside Steve Beresford on keyboard, Olie Brice on double bass and Mark Sanders on drums. The quartet was intimately empathic and synergistic, so clearly starting and ending pieces and phrases together, allowing each member and combination of instruments ample time to explore the music.
The second group was the Alison Blunt Ensemble, an unconventional line-up consisting of five violins, two violas, flute, two double basses and drums. The concept behind the group’s performance was improvisations on a number of Wheeler themes and as Alison explained, a free treatment of the melodies “as though they were paintings”.
Ray Warleigh’s Quintet played for an hour after this, taking us through a relaxed and playful set of originals. Warleigh, a long time collaborator of Wheeler’s, played warm alto nimbly alongside technically accomplished trumpeter Steve Fishwick. The interactive rhythm section showcased a solid Chris Laurence on double bass, a graceful and well-poised Sam Leak on piano and a masterfully attentive and innovative James Maddren on drums.
Last onstage was the epic Reuben Fowler Big Band, Fowler being the recipient of the Kenny Wheeler Prize at The Royal Academy of Music in 2012. The twenty-plus strong group played a programme entirely of Kenny’s music including pieces from 1990’s ‘Music For Small & Large Ensembles’ and the entirety of the 2005 suite known fittingly as the ‘Long Suite’. Kenny’s part was in turn played by George Hogg, Martin Shaw and Steve Fishwick, each demonstrating an individually impressive take on the leading Flugel role whilst Norma Winstone’s part was sung elegantly and faultlessly by Brigitte Beraha. There were many strong and engaging solos across the band, which was fearlessly led through the many metric modulations and seismic musical shifts by conductor, Fowler, although I would have loved to have heard his flugel taking the role of Wheeler at some point.
This fitting tribute to one of the most important figures in jazz history raised £1,100 in donations on the night, impressive for an event put on at such short notice.
THE CAMPAIGN TO ASSIST KENNY WHEELER NOW HAS A PAYPAL ACCOUNT: friendsof kennywheeler(at) gmail (dot) com