Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Kind Folk

Kenny Wheeler 80th Birthday Concert, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, Saturday 23rd October 2010

A lovely evening was had at the RNCM last week for the Kenny Wheeler 80th Birthday concert. It's been a while since I've seen Wheeler, back in the days when I was living in London. I managed to catch him quite a few times at the Vortex, then on Stoke Newington Church St, and I really remember shuffling past him practising on the stairs.

Wheeler's lost none of his modest charm, opening the set in quartet formation, himself of course on flugelhorn, Manchester ex-pat John Taylor on piano, Chris Laurence on double bass and Martin France on drums. A tentative and vulnerably beautiful 'Kind Folk' was followed by a steadier 'Everybody's Song But My Own'. The UK stalwarts continued to appear, with sax players Stan Sulzman, Julian Arguelles joining next, then with Evan Parker for a top sounding short free improv banter with drummer France. Vocalist Diana Torto entered with the rest of the big band for a great set of characteristically fulsome Wheeler arrangements conducted by Pete Churchill.

Wheeler's compositional skills are in fine form, the band treating us to a series of gorgeous new pieces. 'Canta No.6' was a highlight, with some great gusto improvising from Torto and a touching autumnal solo interlude from Taylor, who was on sparkling form tonight. Catching Taylor was an extra treat for me, as I've been wanting to see him play for some time, having heard many versions of his UK standard, 'Ambleside Days' (and having put in a good few hours on it myself).

On the whole the solo improvisations were quite short and to the point, the musical centrepiece of the concert being Wheeler's warm and rich arrangements. I was really impressed with Torto who made the most of her opportunities to shine. A heart warming evening, and a great lead in to John Taylor's gig with Torto and the RNCM Big Band.

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