Tag Archives: London Vocal Project

Album launch: Kenny Wheeler Mirrors – 25 May 2013

An excited full house at Hall One, Kings Place on 25 May 2013.  We were there for the launch of Kenny Wheeler’s Mirrors,  his settings of poems by Stevie Smith, Lewis Carroll and WB Yeates, with vocals by Norma Winstone and the London Vocal Project.   My anticipation was sharpened by a  pre-concert talk by Pete Churchill.  In a short, perceptive and enjoyable talk we learned that Kenny writes deceptively easy music within complex chords, that he allows his musicians freedom to destroy his work, that he creates order out of chaos and madness.   Like a swan serenely gliding by, we are unaware of the energy and strength beneath that swan.  We learned that sad songs make him happy.  And indeed you are constantly teased in this work by the airy voices of the choir, sounding so Sixties and optimistic, contrasting with lyrics rife with loss, death and mourning.   How masterly.

So, briefed with his insight, we listened and were rewarded with a glorious performance of Mirrors in its entirety,  played without interval.   The vast London Vocal Project, led very subtly by Pete Churchill from the far side of the stage, sounded dazzling, the result of five years singing together.   Their light and young voices, and obvious love of the music, perfectly enunciated the profound, and at times, quite mad, lyrics.  Everyone from the album was there, except James Maddren, replaced by the always reliable Martin France on drums.   The sound was perfect, so flawless you didn’t have to think about it.

At centre stage, the slight modest figure of Kenny, flanked by Mark Lockheart on saxophones, Nikki Iles on piano and Norma Winstone.  All put in bravura, moving performances, Kenny especially so, rising from his chair on at least two occasions to acknowledge our applause, his fragile notes floating in the air.  It was a very special, poignant, evening that matched the promise and rewards of the album.  There was a real buzz at Kings Place afterwards, as if people did not want the evening to end.

Mirrors by Kenny Wheeler with Norma Winstone and the London Vocal Project is available from Edition Records 

Review – Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, London Vocal Project – Mirrors – released Feb 2013

You might be forgiven for thinking this latest album by Kenny Wheeler is a jaunty, happy album. Well, it is at first listening and on many levels. I defy anyone not to want to join in with the vocals, the melodies float and soar, the London Vocal Project sound so light and airy, their voices young, reminding me of the Sixties. Then you listen to the words. This is music set by Kenny Wheeler to a series of poems by Stevie Smith, Lewis Carroll and WB Yeats.  Some are whimsy such as those by Lewis Carroll – the title of the album Mirrors refers to Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland.  But Mirrors could also refer to holding up a glass to the human heart because so many moods are explored in this album. So the bright numbers like Humpty Dumpty and Tweedledum are broadly balanced by the sad, wistful poems of Stevie Smith and WB Yeats.  I’m glad they chose not to put Stevie’s most famous poem, Not Waving but Drowning to music, perhaps that would have been too obvious?

The more I listen to this album the more I discover it is an extremely complex affair. Within each composition I might hear words which I’d usually understand as melancholy or bitter and then I hear the voices and the rhythm section and they seem to be saying the opposite of what I hear in the words. Hence the initial impression of an upbeat album.  Take a poem like The Broken Heart by Stevie. It’s a very bitter poem – he told me he loved me – the voices are sweet and upbeat.  Then an ironic sax enters, mocking the voices.   It leaves you as confused as life, that you must smile at grief. 

Jazz set to poetry demands you listen to the words. Take He is dressed in grey chiffon. At least I think it is chiffon. It has a peculiar look, like smoke.  An evocative image  – you wonder how you would read these words aloud yourself and then you realise that what is so perfect about this album is that the music suits the poems so perfectly you forget which came first. The pacing, emphasis and intonation all are so perfect I can see teachers of ‘A’ level English reaching for this album to introduce their classes to these poets and they will thank Kenny Wheeler for his beautiful compositions.

Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll is absolutely perfect. Norma’s wistful, fragile voice perfectly captures a lazy July evening in a boat, you are lulled into a doze. But wait,  what is coming?  A sense of anxiety in the fading notes then Kenny’s brittle flugelhorn and a beautiful solo by Mark Lockheart on sax. Discordant voices lead us forward in time and we realise we have been dreaming.  It’s magical.

Death and bereavement stalk these poems but so gently. I particularly love Nikki’s piano on The Bereaved Swan, it is so delicate. It goes without saying that every note of Kenny’s is inspired and haunting. This perfect album is the jewel in the crown for Edition Records.

Kenny Wheeler, flugelhorn
Norma Winstone, vocals
London Vocal Project directed by Pete Churchill
Nikki Iles, piano
Mark Lockheart, saxophones
Steve Watts, double bass
James Maddren, drums

Mirrors is available on Edition Records