A welcome reissue which provides a portrait of the fledgling compositional skills and...
Peter Marsh 2004-03-08
Though Canadian by birth, Wheeler's formative years were spent in mid 60's London, where he worked with such diverse figures as Johnny Dankworth, Joe Harriott, Tubby Hayes and the Mike Osborne/John Surman quartet. Equally influenced by Fats Navarro's bebop pyrotechnics and second generation boppers like Booker Little, he proved himself an adaptable, thoughtful addition to the British scene.
By 1973 and the time of this record (his second as leader), things had changed. Wheeler had chanced across John Stevens' free improv sessions at the Little Theatre and had been playing with both the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and the Globe Unity Orchestra alongside Stevens, Derek Bailey, and Evan Parker. At the same time he'd been poached by Anthony Braxton for his quartet (alongside Dave Holland), where his ability to read impenetrable scores and improvise collectively made him an indispensable part of one of the saxophonist's best bands.
Wheeler's sleevenotes suggest that he was writing for particular musicians from 'different areas of jazz', and assembled the band around the compositions. Careful, graceful tunes are punctured with fiery, intelligent solos and bursts of free improv from a diverse bunch of players (among them Mike Osborne, Evan Parker, Duncan Lamont, John Taylor and Norma Winstone). Wheeler's always been keen on big ensembles (there's 18 players in the basic unit here), with an emphasis on brass (four trumpets, five trombones). Despite that, he gets a surprisingly intimate, atmospheric sound from the band, even when all their considerable forces are in effect (as on the opening "Toot-Toot"). This is partly due to the two pianists' adoption of electric instruments, which give a gentle glow to proceedings
It's on the longer pieces ("Causes are Events" and "The Good Doctor") that things get a bit more stylistically diffuse. It's quite a thrill to hear Bailey and Parker in such a setting; "The Good Doctor" opens with the pair in a typically effusive abstract dialogue, joined by hazy trombone chords and occasional melodic bursts from the leader. Wheeler's lack of belief in his own abilities as an improviser leads his own contributions to be short (and very sweet), so he's generous in allotting solos to the more garrulous members of the band and constructing challenging settings for them. A welcome reissue which provides a portrait of the fledgling compositional skills and a snapshot of an impossibly fertile English jazz scene.