KENNY WHEELER — Gnu High (review)

KENNY WHEELER — Gnu High album cover Album · 1976 · Post Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
snobb
Not very often one can hear Keith Jarrett/Dave Holland/Jack DeJohnette trio playing as support band. So this Canadian (UK-based) reeds player Kenny Wheeler's album is quite unique even because of this fact. And it looks like "Gnu High" is the last album containing Jarrett as side musician ever.

Wheeler's debut on ECM, this album represents very special time for modern jazz - influential German ECM label is in transition finding their upcoming "new ECM sound" later becoming known as "European jazz" or "chamber jazz". If former part of decade ECM built their reputation as audiophile company releasing avant-garde jazz and post bop of airy/ambient atmosphere with emotionally cold crisp sound, that is late seventies when artists like Keith Jarrett or Jan Garbarek started recording for ECM more amorphous,grooveless music quite liquid and sterile,with obvious influence of European music halls sound.

"Gnu High", even packed with "African" cover art (probably recalling Garbarek's fantastic adventurous ECM debut "African Pepperbird"),doesn't contain African rhythms or freer experimentation. In fact three long tracks are good example of label's transition sound when even if still post bop rooted, music is slower,more abstract and sterile. Wheeler himself plays exclusively flugelhorn, varying from controlled lyrical to abstractly cool. Jarrett/Holland/DeJohnette trio are competent but sounds as if they were asked to demonstrate their maximal available tenderness,delicacy and correctness.

Final result is quite similar to many better "classical" ECM albums of that time - music sound truly professional but soulless,sterile and quite faceless. From other hand, many fans like it because of that. Searchers of more adventurous sound can check Dave Holland ECM albums from the same time, without being too free they offer much more life,groove and fun.
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