JAZZ / Two go boating: Phil Johnson on Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture
emotional terms, English jazz is often a matter of squally rather than stormy weather. Typically, the swell of big feelings is reduced to a few polite eddies on an otherwise calm and glassy sea, and grand statements can be rendered with all the dramatic impact of a shipping forecast. By contrast, the trumpeter Kenny Wheeler - Canadian by birth but so reserved that he could be said to be emotionally naturalised as British - and the pianist John Taylor are both players of passionate intensity, whose music is filled with a Romantic agony.

However, the well-mannered lyrical or pastoral traditions in which they operate, accentuated here by the lack of a rhythm section, almost forbid direct emotional display; even the biggest of feelings come out of their delicate interplay as small but perfectly formed. Only when their emotional course sailed past the Bay of Biscay and a Spanish tinge began to affect the music, did the blood begin to boil and you could feel, rather than just appreciate, their brilliance. Even so, they could hardly be said to have pushed the boat out. Though at times they played so perfectly that the performance became a little marvel of sensitivity and empathetic response, it all seemed to take place at a kind of aesthetic distance.

It was the first time that Wheeler and Taylor had performed as a duo, though their reputations have been tied together so closely for so long that this was difficult to believe. Both have strong European connections, having recorded for the German ECM label. Together with the vocalist Norma Winston they formed the trio Azimuth in the late Seventies, specialising in beautifully light and airy improvisations. Wheeler went on to become one of the most respected of all British-based jazz artists, recording with Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette while Taylor, as a lecturer at the Guildhall school has influenced a whole generation of younger pianists like Jason Rebello.

The absence of a rhythm section allowed the purity of Wheeler's tone to communicate even more clearly than usual. Playing flugelhorn more often than trumpet, he excelled in producing a deep, plangent, melancholy; it's a sound full of pain and loss but so self-effacing and deadpan is Wheeler's delivery that the contrast is quite eerie.

Taylor sways as he plays, dancing from the waist up with rhapsodic abandon. As with Jarrett, his right hand favours long, arabesque lines that double back on themselves. Playing mainly Wheeler originals plus the odd Taylor tune and a wonderful piece of beebop revisionism by Lee Konitz, the duo glided through their repertoire with the grace and ease of champion skaters.

After an hour or so, though, it was, despite the abundant brilliance, rather heavy weather. The concert was promoted by the University College London Music Society and a fine student band opened the evening.