Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, London Vocal Project
Edition **** RECOMMENDED NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
With all music by Kenny Wheeler, London Vocal Project director Pete Churchill in the album notes explains that Mirrors was a commission for five solo voices in the first place, and with Norma Winstone and Kenny Wheeler, they duly performed it at the 1998 Berlin Jazz Festival. After performing the material with various college choirs and then, with the London Vocal Project five years ago, Churchill realised he “knew Mirrors had finally found a home.” The poetry of Stevie Smith (1902-1971) lies at its heart, and Kenny Wheeler’s music has meshed with it perfectly. But it’s not just Smith whose work forms the text for the vocals element, here interpreted by the LVP whose members number 25 split into sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, with Wheeler joining on flugelhorn, Winstone the featured solo singer, pianist Nikki Iles, Polar Bear’s Mark Lockheart on saxophones, bassist Steve Watts, and drummer James Maddren. Besides settings of Smith’s work, the highlight of which for me is the delightful ‘Black March’ (‘I have a friend/At the end/Of the world’), there are settings of Lewis Carroll, and briefly WB Yeats (Winstone excelling on ‘The Lover Mourns’). Delight is a word that constantly springs to mind, an echo of ‘I sing this song for your delight’ on ‘Humpty Dumpty’ at the beginning. The singing is lovely throughout, ethereal, and endowed with a life force all of its own. Somehow everything manages to remain understated yet has impact, the unique charm of the album. Mirrors is still a further example, after The Long Waiting, of the extraordinary late-period flowering of Kenny Wheeler’s artistry once again. There’s a section on ‘Through the Looking Glass’ when Wheeler, Lockheart and Winstone interact spontaneously to tremendous effect, but it’s just one instance of the spirit on display on this remarkable album.
Released on 25 February