Postscript: A benefit for Kenny Wheeler
The concert organised for the benefit of Kenny Wheeler in East London on Friday night ended with an astonishing set from the Reuben Fowler Big Band. The 22-strong outfit played three of Wheeler’s compositions — “The Jigsaw”, “Sea Lady” and The 2005 Suite — and mastered their complexities with a verve and precision that would have delighted the composer, had his health permitted his attendance at the old Dalston Odeon cinema, now known as Epic.
Fowler, only 24 years old, left his trumpet in its case on this occasion but proved to be an adept conductor, exerting a degree of control that allowed the music to breathe. He began his musical life in brass bands in his native Yorkshire, which may be why he responded at an early age to Wheeler’s music, with its love of brass sonorities (here articulated by five trumpeters, all doubling flugelhorn, and four trombones).
Wheeler’s role was played successively by Steve Fishwick, Martin Shaw and George Hogg, all of whom performed with distinction, as did Brigitte Beraha, singing the parts originally written for Norma Winstone. Evan Parker’s soprano saxophone introduction to “Sea Lady” was even more striking than on its original appearance as part of Wheeler’s 1990 ECM album, Music for Large & Small Ensembles. The suite, written by Kenny for his 75th birthday tour and originally featuring Lee Konitz, has never been recorded; that oversight should be rectified as soon as possible, preferably with the musicians who did it such justice on Friday.
The evening also included a remarkable set by the Alison Blunt Ensemble, in which the violinist led her dozen musicians — all strings, with the exception of Mark Sanders on drums and Neil Metcalfe on flute — produced striking interpretations of some of Wheeler’s compositions, with the benefit of a mere hour’s rehearsal but much empathy and spirit.
A lot of people had taken considerable trouble to make this a memorable event, not least Parker, the principal organiser, and Blanca Regina, whose projections on a side wall provided a constant reminder of the evening’s subject. All the money raised will go towards defraying the costs of health care for Kenny and his wife, Doreen. When I wrote a piece on this blog in advance of the concert, some readers abroad asked how they could make a contribution. There is now a PayPal account for that purpose; its email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to http://www.paypal.com and click on “Send Money”.