Kenny Wheeler: flugelhorn; Norma Winstone: vocals; London Vocal Project directed by Pete Churchill: vocals; Nikki Iles: piano; Mark Lockheart: saxophones; Steve Watts: double bass; James Maddren: drums
Even the hairiest hearts of the reviewing species have soft spots. Mine coincides with a sizeable temporal chunk including most everything released in Great Britain from the second half of the 60s throughout the end of the 70s, independently from the musical form (well, to a degree). Just for the flugelhorn parts played in Bill Bruford’s Feels Good To Me, Kenny Wheeler’s place in this writer’s preferences would have been granted. But it is the output under his name – the orchestrations with those inimitably “nostalgic” harmonic sequences, the “black-and-white-TV-memories” aura that his whole sonic essence transmits – that remains truly special, gathering issues related to existential impermanence, concomitant melancholy and lyricism at large in the impressed listener’s mind.
All these factors play pivotal roles in Mirrors, a set of poems (by Stevie Smith, Lewis Carroll and W.B. Yeats) utilized by Wheeler as the solid ground for eleven compositions rendered with absolute technical command pervaded by human sensibility. The “jazz dress” – as refined as it may be – should not fool anyone into believing that this operation has to do with moneymaking matters. Pete Churchill’s London Vocal Project – an accomplished 24-piece choir – explicates the scores with polite manners and consciousness in equivalent quantities. Norma Winstone is still in a class of her own, as evidenced by remarkable episodes such as “Through The Looking Glass”, “The Bereaved Swan” and “The Deathly Child”. The instrumental action is top rank, with a specific mention to Mark Lockheart’s now cottony, now crisp reeds. The leader’s contemplativeness is always there when one wishes a delicately nimble melodic line to embrace a tenuous hint of sadness.
Totally unique and hence not comparable, if not with the mastermind’s past laurels, this music threw your chronicler right into the long arms of a unity that includes hundreds of impressions and repercussions from foregone eras. Among many feelings, I had glimpses of the Northettes (Hatfield & The North, National Health… what’s that, dad?) and Magma, of all things. Thought of Westbrook, Collier and Garrick, rejoicing once again for that kind of touchable grace that only the deepest British jazz can give forth. Profound reflections, endless sighs; who cares about fastidious detailing, hairsplitting notes and blow-by-blow descriptions. It works fabulously, and makes me feel older, yet fortunate to be able to hear a strong throbbing inside.