Arts: Jazz? Far too many notes

If the sound of silence is what you look for in jazz, then Kenny Wheeler's your trumpeter. By Phil Johnson

IF JAZZ is a music that blows hot and cool, Kenny Wheeler blows cooler than just about anyone. The trumpeter, born in Canada in 1930 but resident in England since 1952, has established a style as both a player and a composer that is utterly distinctive. While other trumpeters favour speed-of-light runs and top notes so high that only dogs can appreciate them fully, Wheeler deals quite unapologetically with beauty. Meditative and melancholy, his compositions use silence as an empty canvas on which he paints limpid soundscapes as spare and sepulchral as a late Mark Rothko.

Although Wheeler has been making beautiful music for five decades now, his Angel Song album of 1997 for ECM, the German company for whom he has been recording as a leader since 1975, was a particular triumph. Some of Wheeler's most affecting tunes were played by a quartet of jazz superstars including the legendary "cool school" saxophonist Lee Konitz, who appeared alongside Miles Davis on the Birth of the Cool sessions in 1948. Now the band from the album (with guitarist John Abercrombie replacing Bill Frisell) has been reassembled for a British tour, beginning next Sunday.

"I had always wanted to do an album with Lee Konitz," Wheeler says. "I had liked him since I was a teenager in Canada and I saw him with the Claude Thornhill band. Konitz took a solo and when it came to the middle- eight, he didn't play anything. After the concert I went up to him and said: `Mr Konitz, why didn't you play anything in the middle-eight?' He said: `I couldn't think of anything to play.' I liked that.

"I tried to follow him in the sense that he has his own language and he doesn't use many hot licks. I've generally tried to avoid them myself, it's easy if you want to get the crowd's appreciation to play high notes and throw the trumpet around - although I do occasionally throw in some showbiz..."

Anyone less showbiz than Kenny Wheeler, it would be hard to imagine. He's shy to the point of recessiveness and feels embarrassed about discussing his own trumpet playing. "I don't feel bad about saying I like the songs I've written because they're anybody's, but the trumpet playing - if you don't like it, it's only your own fault."

One of the most fruitful periods of Wheeler's career was his time in the Dave Holland Quintet, probably the most important small jazz group of the mid-Eighties. When Holland brought into the group the young alto saxophone player Steve Coleman - who has gone on to become a guru figure to contemporary black American musicians - the combination of Coleman's incendiary heat and Wheeler's reflective cool was unlikely, to say the least.

"The band was a great experience for me but when Steve Coleman came in I didn't feel I was doing justice to them, and I always felt a bit left out," Wheeler says. "Steve was rather frightening too; rhythmically, he's the best musician I've met, and he knows all that Charlie Parker language inside out." Perhaps because of the clash of musical personalities, the results of their partnership were largely sublime, especially on the wonderful Jumpin' In album of 1983.

Dave Holland, who was famously recruited by Miles Davis after he saw him at Ronnie Scott's in 1968 and has remained resident in America ever since, is also the bassist on Angel Song, and he and Wheeler have had an ongoing partnership for so long that it almost amounts to a musical marriage.

But the wild card in the Angel Song recording was the presence of the guitarist Bill Frisell. Manfred Eicher, the producer of the album, had originally suggested a trio date, but Wheeler wanted a harmony instrument and put forward the name of guitarist John Abercrombie, with whom he had played many times. Eicher countered with the suggestion of Frisell and Wheeler accepted. It was also the producer's idea that the recording should not feature a drummer.

In retrospect, both of Eicher's suggestions seem crucial. The absence of drums allows the silence at the heart of the music to shine through, and Frisell's ethereal atmospherics bring with them the feel of the pedal- steel guitar in country music, which suits the melancholy temper of the compositions perfectly.

"Bill has that cowboy thing and I wondered whether it would suit my tunes, but it does," Wheeler says. "I do like that kind of uncluttered music. It's like he is the country, whereas John Abercrombie is the city. When Bill plays I see cowboys; with John, I think of taxis." Despite the replacement of the rural with the urban, you know that the music on the tour is still going to be, well, beautiful.

The `Angel Song' tour begins at Southampton, Turner Sims Concert Hall (01703 595151), Sunday 24 January; London, QEH (0171-960 4201), Monday 25 January; Bristol, St George's Brandon Hill (0117-923 0359), Wednesday 27 January; Leeds, Irish Centre (0113-245 5570), Thursday 28 January; Darlington Arts Centre, (01325 486555), Friday 29 January; Birmingham, Adrian Boult Hall, (0121-236 5622), Saturday 30 January

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice