Chris Laurence: Ken Wheeler: Some Gnu Ones

The bassist brings to light two previously unrecorded Kenny Wheeler compositions in a band featuring Frank Ricotti and John Parricelli


Reflecting Kenny Wheeler’s predilection for punning titles, Some Gnu Ones is a respectful nod to one of his most beloved albums Gnu High (ECM, 1976) featuring Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. The only downside to this album is its brevity; less than half an hour is really more an EP than an LP. But this doesn’t detract from the music, which is stunningly good both compositionally and performatively.

Virtuoso bassist Chris Laurence has appeared on several on his great friend Kenny Wheeler’s albums and he played at the moving service of thanksgiving for Wheeler on 31 October 2014. Laurence, like Wheeler, has been a ubiquitous figure on the British jazz scene for decades.

The three pieces were all written for Laurence by Wheeler but only C-Man had previously appeared on record, both on Wheeler’s Kayak (Ah Um, 1992) and also retitled as Ma Belle Hélène on The Widow In The Window (ECM, 1992). Wheeler’s compositions are instantly recognisable and have been expertly arranged here by bandleader and Wheeler devotee Pete Churchill.

Piece For Double Bass And Low Strings, a composition in two movements, is sublimely elegant from the start. Laurence’s pizzicato bass evinces the lustrous melody of the first adagio section, adorned by the strings and vibes only. The second movement, augmented by Martin France’s subtle drumming, is reminiscent of Neil Ardley’s A Symphony Of Amaranths (Regal Zonophone, 1972), not least by dint of the strings but also, coincidentally, because vibist Frank Ricotti played on that album, as did Laurence.

Laurence opens C-Man with lugubrious arco bass overlaid with vibes but the piece picks up pace when joined by guitar and drums. John Parricelli’s playing is both skilful and tasteful and never intrusive. Ricotti’s shimmering vibes are also afforded space to solo here and Laurence’s plucked soloing demonstrates his total mastery of his instrument. The final trio number, the elegiac Baroque Piece, sees Tom Walsh, on limpid flugelhorn, emulate the spirit of Wheeler with spine-tingling finesse.

Whilst Kenny Wheeler sadly is no longer with us, his memory and genius live on in these tracks. They serve to remind the listener just how much he is missed. Laurence and Churchill should be justifiably proud of this mini masterpiece and Kenny definitely would have approved.

(1) Piece For Double Bass And Low Strings; (2) C-Man; (3) Baroque Piece (27.41)
Laurence (b); Frank Ricotti (vib); Martin France (d). (1) add Rita Manning (vn); Bill Hawkes, Katie Wilkinson (vla); Nick Cooper, Ian Burdge (clo). (2) add John Parricelli (elg). (3) omit Ricotti, France add Tom Walsh (flh); Parricelli (elg); Pete Churchill (arr). Harpenden & London, 2020-2021.
Jazz In Britain JIB29SCD