Ken Wheeler was a Canadian trumpet player who moved to Britain in 1952, became part of the London jazz world and gradually turned into an internationally renowned composer. His work has elements of jazz and classical music, but mostly it’s pure Ken. When he died, in 2014, he left the outline manuscript of a three-movement composition for his longtime colleague and friend, the bassist Chris Laurence.
Its title, Piece for Double Bass and Low Strings, doesn’t look very exciting, but at least it tells you what to expect. It’s rare to hear a double bass as star of the show, and Laurence is a wonderful soloist – firm, supple and gloriously adventurous. To accompany him, Ken turned the customary string ensemble upside down, with the bass as soloist on top of two violas, two cellos and one violin, plus vibraphone (Frank Ricotti) and drums (Martin France).
The resulting sound is magical and possibly unique. The second of the album’s three Wheeler pieces, C-Man, without the strings but with guitarist John Parricelli added, is less formal and full of fascinating interplay, while the third, Baroque Piece, features Tom Walsh on flugelhorn.
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