While Kenny Wheeler may not be about to abandon his characteristic blend of taut abstraction and melancholy lyricism, this new recording (his first for ECM since 1983) has a warmth and focus which has not always been apparent in his music. Where other of his work has left tensions unresolved. The Widow In The Window is relaxed, guardedly optimistic, at times even joyful.
Mid-tempo swing, gentle Latin rhythms and poignant ballads provide the framework for the set, and all are developed at a faultlessly well-judged pace. The arrangements are airy, cluttered by nothing more than the pairing of trumpet and guitar, and Wheeler’s solos have a buoyancy and coherence which sometimes seems to elude him. This novel quality is exemplified by the way in which he riffs on a simple motif at the close of his solo on Aspire, as if invoking the collected wisdom of the jump and swing era.
The record was made shortly after Wheeler’s 19-piece big band completed a British jaunt earlier this year, and it features that group’s rhythm section, playing with a delicacy and empathy which was largely missing from the numbers it played at the Royal Festival Hall on the opening night of the tour. The newly energised John Abercrombie gets plenty of personal space, soloing with particular flair on the frank bebop of Hotel Le Hot, while John Taylor, especially in his stately, Chopinesque chord work on Ana, plays with commanding but understated authority.
Rush along to your Wheeler dealer now, and buy with confidence; the only possible disappointment is finding it out of stock.
Aspire; Ma Belle Helene; The Widow In The Window; Ana; Hotel Le Hot; Now And Now Again (60.50)
Wheeler (t/flh); John Abercrombie (elg); John Taylor (p); Dave Holland (b); Peter Erskine (d). Oslo, February 1990.
(ECM 843 198-2)