Recorded nine months prior to his death in September 2014, Kenny Wheeler's Songs for Quintet is the acclaimed jazz trumpeter's last studio album. Produced by ECM's Manfred Eicher at London's Abbey Road Studios with a handful of Wheeler's closest musical associates, Songs for Quintet is an intimate, lyrical session that exemplifies all that made Wheeler such a distinctive voice in jazz. Joining Wheeler here are tenor saxophonist Stan Sulzmann, guitarist John Parricelli, bassist Chris Laurence, and drummer Martin France. These musicians all played with Wheeler in various configurations over the last ten years of his life, resulting in an album made with love by a band of like-minded and sympathetic artists who clearly share a deep affection for Wheeler's music. Mixing acoustic and electric sounds, Wheeler and his band play with a hushed yet vigorous interplay and reverence for melodicism while still allowing plenty of room to flirt with modal dissonance and the occasional bristle of electric guitar fuzz. Wheeler (who would have been 85 years old at the time of release) plays flügelhorn throughout and delves into each number with a warm fragility that belies his adventurous harmonies and free-flowing lyrical ideas. In many ways, the album fits alongside the best of his ECM works such as 1975's Gnu High and 1977's Deer Wan. And while there are certainly newer compositions here, it's fascinating to hear Wheeler return to older material, such as the expansive "Nonetheless" from 1996's Angel Song and "Old Time," a frenetic carry-over from his Azimuth trio. Ultimately, Songs for Quintet is a beautiful and poignantly subtle farewell from one of the quiet giants of jazz.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar