Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, London Vocal Project ‘Mirrors’ (Edition) 4/5

One of the UK’s greatest ever trumpet player’s, Canadian-born, but resident here for some six decades, Kenny Wheeler is also an extremely gifted composer and on this latest recording, his debut for the Edition label, he teams up with vocalist Norma Winstone (the two regular performed together during the late 1960s and as part of Azimuth in the mid-late 1970s onwards) and a larger vocal ensemble, the London Vocal Project, for a fusion of instrumental and skilfully voiced music based around and inspired by Lewis Carroll’s ‘Mirrors’. Indeed parallels could also be made with the 1980s ECM double album Wheeler recorded for large and small ensembles and here it has been extended to voicing and varying degrees of instrumental formations. Horace Silver successfully attempted to fuse instrumental and vocal contributions on a series of early to mid-1970s Blue Note albums.

Wheeler succeeds in making this an extremely calm and reposing listen, but crucially one in which the London Vocal Project, under the direction of Pete Churchill, do not get in the way at all of the instrumentalists. Quite the contrary. The latter are made up of some of London’s finest young jazz musicians including excellent saxophonist Mark Lockheart and pianist Nikki Iles. The music is neatly divided between mainly instrumental pieces and primarily vocal-led ones. Of the former, ‘Humpty Dumpty’ stands out for its gorgeous vocal harmonies which lead on to some fine soloing from Lockheart and Wheeler and this is a fine way to start off the album. In fact the rhythm section is solid throughout and the instrmuental collective positively shine on pieces such as ‘The broken heart’ and ‘Through the looking glass’ which are standout compositions. This is an unsual project and one that requires no little compositional and arranging skills to bring it off, and it is heartening to know Kenny Wheeler is still searching for new avenues, which, for an octogenerian, is a remarkable feat in itself.

Tim Stenhouse