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Kenny Wheeler, A Long Time Ago: Music for Brass Ensemble and 
Soloists (63:47); ECM 1691, 1999
ECM Records
Postfach 600 331
81203 München, Germany
Cyberhome: www.ecmrecords.com

        Kenny Wheeler's records for the most part have featured small groups 
dotted with big names from the ECM stable: Dave Holland, Jack 
DeJohnette, Keith Jarrett, John Abercrombie, Peter Erskine, Bill 
Frisell, and so on. Here the Canadian-born trumpeter/composer 
recruits a brass ensemble from his adopted home, England. There are 
four trumpets, two trombones, two bass trombones, and even a 
conductor, and none of the names will be familiar to most American 
listeners. Wheeler restricts himself to fluegelhorn and is supported 
by a rhythm section consisting of John Taylor on piano, John 
Parricelli on guitar, and no one on drums. Taylor has appeared with 
Wheeler many times before; Parricelli is a new face, and his 
Abercrombie-like touch fits right in.
	"The Long Time Ago Suite" opens the record and clocks in at 
nearly thirty-two minutes. Lush brass passages alternate with 
intimate solo spotlights for trombone, fluegelhorn, guitar, and 
piano. The effect is akin to a split screen or a parallel drama 
unfolding at opposite ends of a theater stage. One might view it 
simply as Wheeler's classical and jazz influences attempting to 
cohabitate. The brass sections are legit chamber music; the solos 
flow with a light, loose, Wheeler-trademark swing. At times the 
dynamics verge on extreme, with the solos sounding almost hushed 
compared to the hugeness of the brass ensemble. But when the band 
drops out and John Taylor goes it alone, he manages to fill up the 
big, empty space and propel the music forward, which is no easy task.
	On the heels of this very long opener, the remaining 
selections go by rather quickly. The two shortest tracks do not 
include guitar and piano. These are "One Plus Three" (Versions 1 and 
2), a minimalistic, dissonant fragment featuring Wheeler and three 
trumpets; and "Going for Baroque," an explicit nod to J.S. Bach with 
a wonderful trick ending. A beautiful trombone chorale begins the 
grimly titled "Ballad for a Dead Child." Of particular interest to 
longtime Wheeler fans is an updated arrangement of "Gnu Suite," which 
originally appeared on Wheeler's 1975 album Gnu High (ECM).
	The first section of "Eight Plus Three/Alice My Dear" is 
rather ingenious: Taylor plays agitated trills while trumpets sustain 
chords and a single trombone improvises over them. Then the bones 
sustain the chords while a trumpet takes over the improvisation. 
Bones and trumpets then sustain together, with single-note piano 
flurries above. Finally bones, trumpets, and piano all sustain the 
chords while the guitar riffs away on top. The track then segues 
artlessly into "Alice My Dear," which is more uptempo, with piano and 
bass trombones doubling a catchy low-register riff.
	It's fascinating to hear Wheeler's unique harmonic vocabulary 
interpreted by a full horn section. Individual voices attain a 
clarity not really possible on the piano. At times Wheeler's 
harmonies sound almost pre-modern in their strangeness. The absence 
of drums heightens the strangeness while endowing the music with an 
unusually relaxed time feel.
~David R. Adler

personnel: Kenny Wheeler, fluegelhorn; John Taylor, piano; John 
Parricelli, guitar; Derek Watkins, John Barclay, Henry Lowther, Ian 
Hamer, trumpets; Pete Beachill, Mark Nightingale, trombones; Sarah 
Williams, Dave Stewart, bass trombones; Tony Faulkner, conductor.

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