June 2007

A Tribute to Kenny Wheeler
Art of Jazz Celebrations
June 1, 2007 Fermenting Cellar Distillery District Toronto
The Art of Jazz (as interpreted by) Kenny Wheeler & Friends
by Paul J. Youngman with photos by Mike Colyer
Kenny Wheeler, trumpeter, composer and this evening playing flugelhorn and leading a band of highly distinguished guest artists is still blowing with intensity, creativity and melodic spontaneity. The tone he has developed over the years is even mellower now, more sumptuous and refined, the surprises and humorous communiqués are still present. Mr. Wheeler will play a wonderful sounding solo, playing off the melody of the song, hitting some well placed high notes and returning to an off-tone sounding run, ending with an accent in the high register, sustained and allowed to break up and disintegrate into, a what-could-have-been kind of feel that makes you as a listener give a little smile.
The guest musicians for this evening’s performance, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz; bassist extraordinaire Dave Holland; drummer Joe LaBarbera and multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson, tonight playing piano and vibraphone plus award winning vocalist Norma Winstone, singing and sounding at times very much like a soprano saxophone. This group took the audience on a magical journey of jazz sophistication and elegance. The show was held at the Fermenting Cellar. The sound was better at this night’s performance compared to the previous nights as the Cellar was packed with people, which helped to absorb the sound in this hard-surfaced room. Approximately five hundred people had gathered at the Cellar, sitting in hard folding chairs in anticipation of what could be considered a legendary performance.
Kenny Wheeler
Mr. Wheeler was assisted to the stage by some of the organizers and fellow musicians, but once up on the stage he was in his element, playing through five songs with verve and passion. The first song “A Smile Remembered” featured Mr. Wheeler. His flugelhorn playing was wonderful, a little difficult to hear at times, but sounding as I know it is meant to sound. (I hope the concert was recorded, the sound should be fine coming through the mixing console.) The song opened up with a brash intro by Norma Winstone, singing with an avant-garde phrasing in soprano saxophone style. Dave Holland joined in and laid down a nice phrase to introduce Don Thompson on piano and Joe LaBarbera on drums. The song built to the first breakout solo by Mr. Wheeler, who delivered a beautiful tone and an improvisational break of intrigue.
The start of the second song had Mr. Wheeler introducing Lee Konitz, “Please welcome Lee Konitz, a man who never plays the same thing twice, not even once.” Konitz on alto saxophone is a delight; he took the first break and played in a calming voice, very smooth and with a strong feeling for the melody. The epitome of the cool jazz sound, it’s still burning brightly through Konitz’s fine playing and phrasing.

Don Thompson followed Konitz’s solo with an inspirational solo of his own. He stayed in the pure melodic vein, playing a beautiful, lyrical line. The trio performed with excitement, Mr. Thompson leading and Dave Holland and Joe LaBarbera comping and improvising in a free form manner with excellent dynamics. Dave Holland’s solo was another inspired moment, with Holland playing all over the bass and creating a melodically pleasing tapestry of rhythm. LaBarbera lent support on brushes — a swishing ambiance that created the perfect backdrop for Mr. Holland to explore the intonation of the bass.

The next tune started solo saxophone, the phrasing, a very interesting mix of syncopated two-bar fluid runs that led into the start of the song; a song entitled “Isn’t It Strange How Harrison’s Can Change.” Don Thompson played vibraphone, laying down some incredible lines with impeccable phrasing. The next song “Canter No. 1” featured Norma Winstone singing and scatting in a high register. The highlight number from the first set, a charming ballad, “Where Do We Go From Here?” opened with an incredible statement by Mr. Wheeler joined by Don Thompson playing the piano and accentuating the melody with full sumptuous chords and delicate runs. Mr. Konitz would take up the next solo and play the melody in a melancholy manner. The pair of soloists would trade off lines and create a hypnotic and thoroughly enchanting moment in time.

There were wonderful moments by all members of the group, drum interludes that were very exciting, brushwork as a demonstration in the rudiments of drumming, and bass playing as solid and joyous as any you’ll ever encounter. The singing of Ms. Winstone was like that of no other — she interprets jazz melody with the feeling and musicality of an instrumental improviser.

The second set included the songs “Old Time,” “How It Was Then,” “No Name Blues” and a few songs that were not announced. The audience gave the group a very enthusiastic response after the last number. The musicians who performed seemed pleased with the reception and the musicians who witnessed the performance (many local musicians were in attendance), also seemed pleased to have witnessed such an inspirational display of musical integrity in displaying the art of jazz.

Norma Winstone

Lee Konitz
We welcome your comments and feedback
Paul J. Youngman
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Mike Colyer
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The Live Music Report

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