Kenny Wheeler: Gnu High (ECM 1069)

 

Kenny Wheeler
Gnu High

Kenny Wheeler fluegelhorn
Keith Jarrett piano
Dave Holland bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded June 1975, Generation Sound Studios, New York
Engineer: Tony May
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Kenny Wheeler’s ECM debut cut against the grain of his previously avant-garde stylistics. Dispensing here with his trusty trumpet for fluegelhorn, Wheeler carved out a niche that still leaves room for no other. The heartening tone of “Heyoke” animates our very bodies with 22 minutes of bliss. After Wheeler’s prophetic intro, Jarrett is given free reign at the keyboard, uttering ecstatic cries as he threads through Holland’s solo while also buoying Wheeler’s instinctive pickups. “Smatter” injects this trio of compositions with a hefty dose of kinetic energy that is sustained by Wheeler’s fluid brass and the tireless volleys of Jarrett. Even as the latter takes his lone passage, one feels the energy lingering like a potential leap into flight. “Gnu Suite” begins smoothly before locking into a downtempo trajectory. An unrepeatable magic occurs as Holland’s magnetic solo opens into the wider ethereal territory of his bandmates’ consecutive reappearances. And as the voices realign themselves, we feel the release of arrival, of knowing that we’ve come home.

One could hardly smelt a more fortuitous combination of musical alloys, which in spite of (or perhaps because of) their intense respective powers, manage to cohere into a consistently visionary sound. Jarrett only seems to get better in the presence of others (this was to be his last album as sideman), feeding as he does off their energy and vice versa. Wheeler is another musician who easily stands his own ground, yet imbibes only the most saturated elixirs of mindful interaction. And I need hardly extol the wonders of having Holland and DeJohnette covering one’s back. Gnu High stands out also for the fact that many of its solos occur alone, so that we are able to place an ear to the heartbeat of every musician in turn. Their internal compasses share a magnetic north, pointing to a direction in sound that continues to drive the label some three-and-a-half decades later.

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