Kenny Wheeler trumpet, fluegelhorn
Jan Garbarek saxophones
John Abercrombie electric guitar, electric mandolin
Dave Holland bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Ralph Towner 12-string guitar
Recorded July 1977 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Among Kenny Wheeler’s cleverly punned titles, Deer Wan takes the cake. For his second ECM album as headliner, the prodigious trumpeter/fluegelhornist serves up a set of four originals—three long and one short—sure to enliven any morning routine or Sunday afternoon alike. The top-shelf cast reads like a who’s who of ECM’s best and brightest: Jan Garbarek on saxophones, John Abercrombie on electrics, Dave Holland on bass, Ralph Towner on his ever-present 12-string, and Jack DeJohnette at the drums. Wrap this in the splendid engineering of Jan Erik Kongshaug and you get unquestionable sonic bliss.
The 16.5-minute “Peace For Five” is an album in itself and provides an ideal launching pad for Wheeler’s astonishing lyricism. A somber aside from Holland and not-so-somber acrobatics from Abercrombie and Garbarek all contribute to a richly flowing tapestry in this epic opener. Wheeler and company tear a page from the book of Enrico Rava with “3/4 In The Afternoon.” Like a stroll through lush gardens, one finds in it a veritable ecosystem of visual and melodic ideas, compressed into a single brass-gilded flower. Towner’s reverberant plush underscores the warmth within. As we swing over into night with “Sumother Song,” Garbarek’s liquid tenor evaporates into its own swan song with only a tinkling of cymbals to mark where it once stood. But this, we soon discover, is only a pause before DeJohnette’s beautifully corrugated rhythms unfold beneath a soaring fluegelhorn. After a windy introduction, the title track quickly weaves itself into an upbeat welcome mat on which we wipe our feet as if after a long journey. Buffeted soloing all around brings us full circle to a state of renewed appreciation for that which we’ve always known.
Deer Wan is an unsung masterpiece of smooth jazz with just enough sharp edges to leave an unforgettable scar or two. A most endearing album for those who like a shot of whiskey in their musical coffee.