Kenny Wheeler has long been a talented composer, improviser, and soloist, though he is still overlooked by some jazz fans because most of his work has been issued by European labels. Among the composers of his generation, Wheeler is one of the best, along with the late Bob Brookmeyer, in writing and scoring creative works for a large ensemble. For this session, Wheeler's charts are performed by a 17-piece big band -- with the addition of Diana Torto's wordless vocals -- conducted by Pete Churchill. Wheeler's expressive flügelhorn has a slightly dissonant, fragile sound that is very much his own, while his works are full of moving ensemble passages and superb individual solos. The peppy "Four, Five, Six" is very much a modern work, with intricate solos by Wheeler, bassist Chris Laurence, baritone saxophonist Julian Argüelles, and guitarist John Parricelli. The Latin undercurrent of his extended work "Enowena" proves infectious as a backdrop for Wheeler's powerful solo. "Upwards" begins as a deliberate, brooding piece that suggests an emotional upheaval, with Wheeler stretching the upper range of his horn; it changes character midway into driving post-bop. This is easily one of Kenny Wheeler's best efforts as a leader.
The Long Waiting Review
by Ken Dryden