Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, London Vocal Project – Mirrors (2012)
Kenny Wheeler is an octogenarian Canadian trumpeter who has made the UK his home since the early 1950s. Here he is joined by British jazz singer Norma Winstone, as well as Polar Bear’s Mark Lockheart on saxophone, Nikki Iles on piano, Steve Watts on bass and James Maddren on drums. The album also sees the London Vocal Project providing choral work.
While the music was written years ago, poems by Stevie Smith, Lewis Carroll and W.B. Yeats dictate the work on Mirrors. An admirable and interesting project.
First off, the music is fantastic, erring on the smooth and blue side of jazz; Norma Winstone, quite frankly, has honey instead of vocal cords. Piano, bass and drums work well as the rhythm section, though never taking the limelight but instead being solid, steadfastly dependable. Sax and trumpet are absolutely spot on, exactly what you would want from any jazz album.
However, I find myself completely distracted by the choir. It’s not that they aren’t good, they have a great sound, but to me it is a great sound that would work in a church or a stage musical; this I feel is exacerbated by the use of the poems as lyrics. The poems naturally have a narrative thread, in the same way that songs from musicals do. This may appeal to some, but to me, I find that it leads to a fairly uneven album.
My favourite tracks are those for which Winstone takes the lead and the choir add support; such as the beautiful bluesy The Lover Mourns (W.B. Yeats), or The Bereaved Swan (Stevie Smith), which both work wonderfully, while a track like The Deathly Child (Smith) has that musicals sound during the sung sections.
Overall, a mixed album; I do like the music and Winstone’s voice, but I find that the overall style and concept is distracting and doesn’t live up to what is otherwise a good blue jazz album.
Favourite tracks: The Lower Mourns, Through The Looking Glass, The Bereaved Swan
Spotify link: Kenny Wheeler – Mirrors