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