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Album Reviews

March 09, 1997|Bill Kohlhaase

KENNY WHEELER

"Angel Song"

ECM

* * *

This drummer-less quartet led by Canadian-born trumpeter-fluegelhornist Wheeler seems an oddgrouping at first glance. It combines the sounds of alto saxophonist, cool-school veteran and improvisation voyager Lee Konitz with the skewered tones and temperament of electric guitarist Bill Frisell. Despite their generational differences, Konitz and Frisell reflect similar improvisational philosophies as they play Wheeler's stately, sometimes classically influenced music. And Frisell's wiry accompaniment in support of Konitz's free-ranging solos spark the saxophonist into even deeper testaments.

For his part, Wheeler is appropriately celestial, blending round tones with Konitz on the title tune, then soaring away with a gossamer-toned sweetness. The best pieces--"Kind Folk," the melancholy "Unti" and the mirror-image pair "Present Past" and "Past Present"--move easily against simple, often ethereal underpinnings. Bassist Dave Holland, ever responsive, stands out from behind the soloists, constructing his own narratives in support of alto, fluegelhorn or guitar. Fans of Wheeler's previous ECM recordings, dating back to 1975 and the landmark "Gnu High," will recognize the familiar Wheeler moods and methods. It's the instrumentation that makes "Angel Song" a standout.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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