Kenny Wheeler/Hugo Wolf String Quartet/John Taylor
Trumpeter Kenny Wheeler’s latest album pairs him with the Hugo Wolf String Quartet, but the first notes of Other People announce that this isn’t your typical soloist-with-strings affair. The title track immediately establishes an intricate synthesis of styles. Wheeler, the quartet, and pianist John Taylor each play distinct lines that occasionally intersect and interlock but sometimes drop out of the mix altogether. The tune remains in motion, oscillating between jazzy and refined, with playful bursts and passionate murmurs. Wheeler composed and arranged every cut, showcasing his talents in surprising ways.
Throughout his career, Wheeler has slid between avant and traditional modes as if the distinctions barely existed. He’s played convincingly with Anthony Braxton and Michael Brecker. On this album, Wheeler navigates the divide between jazz and classical with the same aplomb. The melancholy “Some Days Are Better” marries his delicately spiraling phrases to the quartet’s subdued sighs. “Win Some Lose Some” features the quartet playing counterpoint to his alternately tart and tender solos.
In a bold move, the album’s centerpiece doesn’t include Wheeler at all. The haunting “String Quartet No. 1″ passes through several movements brimming with muted lyricism. Threatening to burst into spasms of sorrow, the piece ultimately avoids melodramatic catharsis, letting the emotions simmer beneath the surface. The rest of the album is similarly restrained, creating tension and beauty through what remains unsaid. The autumnal vibe suits an album recorded by this 75-year-old unsung maverick whose dignified music remains wonderfully alive to new possibilities.
- Jeff Jackson