Angel Song

Kenny Wheeler, Lee Konitz, Dave Holland, Bill Frisell

EN / DE
LP from the "Luminessence" Series.
 
“Destined to go down in history as a jazz classic” was the verdict with which The Guardian greeted this album on its release in 1997, saying, “Wheeler’s compositions and four of the world’s greatest improvisers make for a tranquil set that rewards with every listening. This is beautiful, golden music.” Angel Song is among the apexes of the label’s catalogue, uniting four master-improvisers – each with a unique artistic identity – in an intimate, drummer-less quartet session. Kenny Wheeler is the composer of the nine hauntingly lyrical chamber-elaborations and endows them with his singular timbre on flugelhorn and trumpet in expressive melodic exchanges with alto saxophonist Lee Konitz. Dave Holland’s bass-foundation is as compelling as ever, giving Bill Frisell all the freedom for harmony-encompassing improvisation. The verdict of The Times was equally jubilant: “This is a stirringly beautiful album: Holland’s lithe dependability providing the anchor for the dignified sonorousness of Konitz, the flickering grace of Frisell and the plangent tenderness of Wheeler himself.”
"Dafür bestimmt, als Jazz-Klassiker in die Geschichte einzugehen" – so das Urteil des Guardian bei der Veröffentlichung des Albums im Jahr 1997. Weiter meinte die Zeitung: "Wheelers Kompositionen und vier der weltbesten Improvisatoren schaffen ein nachdenkliches Set, das es sich lohnt wieder und wieder zu hören. Dies ist wunderschöne, leuchtende Musik." Angel Song gehört zu den Höhepunkten im Katalog des Labels und vereint vier Improvisationsgrößen – jeder mit einer einzigartigen künstlerischen Identität – in einer intimen, Schlagzeug-losen Quartett-Session. Kenny Wheeler ist der Komponist der neun eindringlich lyrischen Kammer-Jazzstücke und verleiht ihnen an Flügelhorn und Trompete im expressiv-melodischen Austausch mit Altsaxophonist Lee Konitz eine besonders eindringliche Atmosphäre. Das Bassfundament von Dave Holland ist so überzeugend wie eh und je und lässt Bill Frisell alle Freiheiten für harmonieumfassende Improvisation. Wie der Guardian jubelte 1997 auch die Times und sprach von einem: "rührend schöne[n] Album: Hollands wendige Zuverlässigkeit ist der Anker für die elegante Klangfülle von Konitz, die flimmernde Raffinesse von Frisell und die klangliche Zärtlichkeit von Wheeler selbst."
Featured Artists Recorded

February 1996, Power Station, New York

Original Release Date

01.02.1997

  • 1Nicolette
    (Kenny Wheeler)
    08:36
  • 2Present Past
    (Kenny Wheeler)
    12:07
  • 3Kind Folk
    (Kenny Wheeler)
    08:36
  • 4Unti
    (Kenny Wheeler)
    09:52
  • 5Angel Song
    (Kenny Wheeler)
    07:35
  • 6Onmo
    (Kenny Wheeler)
    05:50
  • 7Nonetheless
    (Kenny Wheeler)
    05:27
  • 8Past Present
    (Kenny Wheeler)
    07:04
  • 9Kind Of Gentle
    (Kenny Wheeler)
    04:42
The nine themes Wheeler has provided are near-perfect vehicles not only for the two horn players’ long-lined lyricism, but also for Frisell’s subtle textural and melodic originality. This is a stirringly beautiful album: Holland’s lithe dependability providing the anchor for the dignified sonorousness of Konitz, the flickering grace of Frisell and the plangent tenderness of Wheeler himself
Chris Parker, The Times
 
A glowing four-way jazz conversation as delicate and subtly ecstatic as if the protagonists were intimate partners. A combination of Wheeler’s writing and the skills of four of the world’s great improvisers makes it the kind of set in which the overlaid stories become progressively more fascinating with every listening. Delicious.
John Fordham, The Guardian
 
Schöner Klang von anderen Planeten – Die ideale Form der Polyphonie. Kenny Wheeler hat neun seiner Kompositionen mit Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell und Dave Holland – Giganten auf ihren Instrumenten allesamt – eingespielt. Herausgekommen sind die späten Quartette des modernen Jazz, die Fortsetzung der klassischen Polyphonie mit anderen Mitteln. Es gibt keine überflüssigen Phrasen in diesen musikalischen Konversationen, nicht einen Ton zu viel, einen falschen schon gar nicht. Wenn je Jazz gespielt wurde, bei dem Improvisation und Komposition zur Deckung kam, weil jeder Musiker Passagenwerk, gedankliche Durststrecken, ornamentales Beiwerk, reine Begleitfunktionen wie selbstverständlich vermieden und stets die Gesamtform mitbedacht hat, so sind es die „Angel Songs“ von Kenny Wheeler, die dem schmalen Katalog eines idealen Kammerjazz hinzugefügt werden müssen. (…) Was Wheeler, Konitz, Frisell und Holland hier kreieren, befindet sich auf der Hochebene des vierstimmigen Satzes, ohne die intellektuelle Kühle und klangliche Monochromie des klassischen Streichquartetts zu vermitteln. Es sind Erinnerungen an die beste Zeit des Cool Jazz, Musik auf Zehenspitzen bisweilen und dann wieder kraftvolle Gemälde in den reinen Farben des Pariser Fauvismus. (…) „Angel Song“ ist Kenny Wheelers unbestrittenes Opus summum.
Wolfgang Sandner, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
 
Ein kleines Meisterwerk. Wheelers Musik ist fein und raffiniert und dennoch nie blutleer, höchst geeignet für improvisatorische Entfaltung. Die melodiösen Vorlagen dienen den Solisten denn auch für wunderbares Interplay und perfekt aufgebaute Soli, welche die exponierten Themen nahtlos weiterentwickeln. Rhythmik, Harmonik und Melodik sind gleichermaßen präsent im Spiel dieses immens tiefschürenden Quartetts, dessen Mitglieder sich respektieren und optimal ergänzen.
Neue Züricher Zeitung
 
No one, anywhere, sounds like Wheeler, which (…) is an incredible thing. His tone is pregnant with human vulnerability, beautiful and yet somehow uncertain. The tunes are great, too.  This is indeed angelic music.
Linton Chiswick, Time Out
 
Angel Song is a dream of an album. Kenny Wheeler writes all the compositions and his spirit looms large over the proceedings. The writing is what makes it sound so different – Wheeler writes such entrancing harmonies into his rolling, folky pieces that the improvisations seem to take place in roomy Wheeleresque space. Konitz slips particularly easy into this set-up, sounding terrific throughout. Frisell is discreet and exact, and there’s abundant spring and melody in Holland’s playing. Wheeler solos heroically, squirting feelings of melancholy and fortitude out of both trumpet and flugelhorn. Despite the big name nature of the session, it’s incredibly intimate and relaxed. This is music of gentleness, but it’s no soft touch: Wheeler’s as sharp a musical thinker as they come. And the resolute unsentimentality of this group gives the delicate music great force and energy.
Will Montgomery, The Wire
 
Angel Song ne permet plus d’ignorer l’une des contributions les plus originales à l’histoire de la trompette de jazz.
Diapason
 
As soon as the music starts, it makes perfect sense. The tunes and arrangements are characteristically thoughtful and make the perfect palette for a cool improviser like Konitz. As an example of what can be achieved by improvisers with good ears, Angel Song is a gem.
GB, BBC Music Magazine
 
They are individually known for their jazz outside the mainstream. As a band these outsiders make interior, beautiful music – jazz as chamber music. Wheeler’s compositions float and pique; his tone is dry, his sensibility warm, the chords he constructs unexpected, lateral. His tunes are aural dreams. Freed from the mandate of the beat, this drummerless quartet is a mesh of timbre and texture, weaving together Konitz’s austere romanticism, Frisell’s ghostly imprecations, Holland’s thoughtful commentary, and Wheeler’s movingly value-free tone. The music insinuates, guiding the listener through a landscape that sums up a style of jazz dependent on nuance, depth and maturity for its persuasiveness.
Carl Woff, Boston Globe
 
Vier Engel schweben durchs Zimmer. Tun, was ihre Pflicht ist: bringen Vergangenheit und Gegenwart zusammen, heben die Grenzen zwischen hier und dort auf, machen Engelsmusik. Kammermusik im warmen Cool-Jazz-Tonfall, das Zitat verwandelt sich in Haltung, Vergängliches in Ruhe. Ein Lebensnerv des Jazz wird in Schwingung versetzt, die Schule der swingenden Melancholie, von ordentlichen achttaktigen Wechsel bis zu freien Lyrismen und modalen Geflechten.
Konrad Heidkamp, Die Zeit
 
Ein schlagzeugloses Quartett von Individualisten erschießt sich winterlich anmutende Musiklandschaften und erfüllt sie mit sanften Abenteuern. Große, unforcierte Kunst jenseits aller Vorschriften, Promenaden und Sicherheiten.
Hans-Jürgen Schaal, Süddeutsche Zeitung
 
Kenny’s studio date is sober, quiet, every footfall measured and precise, yet the overlapping detail of the playing is so tender and engrossing that one can sit mesmerised through the whole 70 minutes.
Richard Cook, Mojo
 
Four quaint voices agree on a way to drift that makes this dreamscape seem fully spirited.
Jim Macnie, Billboard USA
 
An album of celestial beauty that marks a late-career high point for Wheeler. In league with a rare set of musicians (…) Wheeler has fashioned a work in which the line between composition and improvisation is blurred to entrancing effect.
Bradley Bambarger, Billboard USA (2)
 
It’s a dream of an album, meditative and melancholy by turns, and the music deepens further with every hearing. Wheeler has made some astonishing records but this may be his masterpiece.
Phil Johnson, Independent on Sunday
 
Kenny Wheeler, mit dem Manfred Eicher seit Jahren zusammenarbeitet, ist nicht nur einer der bemerkenswertesten europäischen Trompeter und Flügelhornisten, sondern vor allem einer der sympathischsten in seiner bescheidenen Ernsthaftigkeit, seinem kompletten Verzicht auf Selbstdarstellung, seiner Fähigkeit, sich auf andere Musiker einzulassen. Ihn mit einem der größten Altsaxophonisten des modernen Jazz, mit Lee Konitz zusammenzubringen, war eine gute Idee. Dazu gesellte Eicher zwei intellektuelle Musiker aus seinem Programm, Dave Holland und Bill Frisell, beide eher Grübler als Draufgänger, dabei jedoch keineswegs blutleer. Das Ergebnis ist ohne Abstriche, was man vor nunmehr einem halben Jahrhunder Cool Jazz nannte, elegisch, nachdenklich, lyrisch, Pastellfarben eher abrufend als grelle Effekte. Die Disziplin der vier Meister bewahrt die Musik jedoch vor dem Zerfließen, vor strukturloser Stimmung. Man meint, buchstäblich zu hören, dass und wie diese Musiker ihre Instrumente lieben, zärtlich und mit dem Bestreben, aus ihnen herauszuholen, was sie an klanglichen Nuancen zu bieten haben.
Thomas Rothschild, Frankfurter Rundschau
 
Many of the best ECM productions evince the same kind of intimacy and collective coherence as traditional chamber music – which is ultimately the charm and appeal of trumpeter Kenny Wheeler’s Angel Song, as serene and melodic a modern jazz outing as I’ve heard in some time. Kenny Wheeler is among the most underrated of trumpet virtuosos. There’s an ease of execution, a poignant human quality to his distinctive timbre. Listen to his fluttering descents into the lower register, the cracked yet powerful vocal inflections, and the sudden emission of high harmonics as he leaps into the horn’s upper register – it sounds as if a whistling column of air is slowly leaking from a balloon. As for the sonics, they’re what you’d expect from ECM. Eicher and engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug bring a remarkably human touch – warm, airy, and detailed.
Chip Stern, Stereophile
 
A surefire candidate for top jazz disc of 1997. It was certainty back In the spring that the expatriate Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler’s Angel Song would be one of the hot tickets of 1997, and it kept its glow all the way through the year. Not only was it a standout in a year of good jazz releases, but it was a triumph for Wheeler himself. Though Angel song is truly a musical exchange between formidable equals, the breadth of Wheeler’s experience, his capacities for attentive listening, and his remarkably flexible technique were crucial to its laid-back vigour. Wheeler’s long career has symbolised some of the most creative jazz impulses – foregrounding of improvisation, openness to change, internationalism, and the capacity to bridge the familiar and the unfamiliar with conviction and logic.
John Fordham, The Guardian (2)
 
Jazzwise CD of the month. It is the textured coherence of the band as a whole that really impresses. This gem of an album gives us the most undiluted essence of Wheeler.
CP, Jazzwise
 
Destined to go down in history as a jazz classic. Wheeler’s compositions and four of the world’s greatest improvisers make for a tranquil set that rewards with every listening. This is beautiful, golden music.
The Guardian (3)
 
Wheelers Stücke sind ruhig, klangbetont und entwickeln aus einfachsten Motiven große Stimmungsgemälde. Die Improvisationen sind auf höchstem Niveau und lassen übliche Rollenverteilungen wie Solist und Sideman völlig vergessen.
Her, Musikexpress
 
Die CD des Monats. Wheeler, Konitz, Holland und Frisell setzen im schlagzeuglosen Quartett Maßstäbe für einen subtilen Kammerjazz. Introvertiert, impressionistisch, voll harmonischer Raffinessen. Nicht die solistische Leistungsbilanz der vier Virtuosen macht den Angel Song so faszinierend – es ist der runde Gesamtklang, die perfekte Harmonie.
Matthias Inhoffen, Stereoplay
 
Diese Musiker sind nicht nur wie füreinander geschaffen, sie zaubern zudem eine Fülle von Klangeindrücken durch wechselnde Kombinationen. Faszinierend- auch aufnahmetechnisch eine herausragende Produktion.
Peter Steder, Audio
 
Wenn wir es hier mit einer musikalischen Delikatesse ersten Ranges zu tun haben, liegt dies nicht zuletzt am klug inszenierten Zusammenspiel von Kalkül und frei schwingender Improvisation. In diesem Quartett der Extraklasse bilden sich schnell zwei Konstanten. Wheeler und Konitz auf der einen, Frisell und Holland auf der anderen Seite. Gänzlich ohne Frontenbildung zwischen Solist und Rhythmusgruppe kommt diese Konstellation aus – vielleicht weil sie sich wie selbstverständlich ergibt, vielleicht weil sie nie starr wirkt, vielfach durchbrochen wird. Holland und Frisell brillieren auch solistisch… Als ob es diese Musik schon immer gegeben habe, dabei ist sie ganz neu, schwerelos, zeitlos.
Tilman Urbach, Fono Forum
 
Quel plateau! Comme un vol, une note suspendue, cette musique par l’espaces. Il n’ya guère de référents ici, juste une création qui vise l’essence de la mélodie. Une volupté de fin gourmet.
Renaud Czarnès, La Croix
 
Lee Konitz konnte einem schon immer mit seinem raffinierten Spiel kalte Schauer die Wirbelsäule runterjagen. Der Altsaxophonist hat in dem Trompeter Kenny Wheeler einen Partner gefunden, der einen kühlen Song noch in Eis packen kann. Bassist Dave Holland und Gitarrist Bill Frisell passen sich der gespenstischen Stimmung hervorragend an. Die richtige Musik, wenn der Weltschmerz zupackt – und dann macht sie auch wieder Spaß.
Peter Bölke, Spiegel
 
So schön kann das Zusammenspiel von Alt-Avantgardisten sein. Eine Jazz-Suite voll Leichtigkeit und intelligentem Charme.
Michael Berger, Die Woche
 
Voici un disque gorgé d‘émotion et pourtant en parfaite harmonie avec cette esthétique qu’il faudrait qualifier de ‘lyrisme retenu’. Ce disque exprime la nostalgie d’un autre monde, où régneraient compréhension et harmonie.
Michel Contat, Télérama
 
Vous ne devez pas manquer ce disque. Unissons somptueux et contrechants délicats alternent et se succèdent pour une aventure intérieure qui ouvre les plus grands espaces.
Philippe Méziat, Jazzmagazine
 
Die Musik dieses schlagzeuglosen Quartetts ist wunderschön. (…) Kenny Wheeler, ein Meister des lyrischen Spiels, der über einen warmen Sound und eine bestechende Klangkultur verfügt, ist die Aufmerksamkeit zu vergönnen. (…) Die Interaktion der vier so exquisiten und genuin-individuellen Instrumentalisten ist makel- und schnörkellos, die Aufnahmequalität wie immer exzellent.
K. N. Falter
 
A quietly devastating album of lyrical group improvisations. It shows that a collective improvisation needn’t be brawling and tumultuous; the lion’s share of the credit for the album’s coherence goes to Wheeler for supplying his colleagues with such strong thematic material. The level of ideas being exchanged is as uniformly high as the musicianship. The music swings forcefully at times – thanks as much to each player’s sense of rhythm as to Holland’s propulsive bass lines.
F.D., Stereo Review
 
For his part, Wheeler is appropriately celestial, blending round tones with Konitz on the title tune, then soaring away with a gossamer-toned sweetness. The best pieces (…) move easily against simple, often ethereal underpinnings. Bassist Dave Holland, ever responsive, stands out from behind the soloists, constructing his own narratives in support of alto, fluegelhorn or guitar. It’s the instrumentation that makes Angel Song a stand-out.
Bill Kohlhaase, Los Angeles Times
 
Through the course of the record’s nine tunes, Wheeler and his crew splash delicate, ethereal daubs of aural colors, creating impressionistic Monets out of thin air. A textural/tonal zephyr of moody intensity, Angel Song is yet another sublime slice of Kenny Wheeler’s point of view.
Tom Terrell, Jazztimes
 
Kenny Wheeler: eloquent trumpeter, stylist, significant composer, hell of an arranger. Case in point: Angel Song, a marvellous example of group rapport. Musicians seem to finish each others’ sentences, gracefully, poetically. This music penetrates deeply simply because it is allowed to be itself, unforced, “guided” by Wheeler’s superb pen. Sonically, each distinct musical personality has been recorded with an eloquence and poise that rises up. What a treat to hear four heavyweights playing original music as if it were their own, egos held in reserve.  One gets the impression that Wheeler’s genius for arranging was in fact driven by these particular musicians, who alone were to be the vehicles for this very soulful music. Everyone and everything has its place in this recording.
John Ephland, DownBeat
 
Mit beiden Seelen feiert [Kenny Wheeler] auf einer CD Triumphe, die keinen Wind von sich hermacht und doch schon absehbar zu den wichtigen Platten des Jahres gehört. Wheeler versammelt ein schlagzeugloses Kammer-Allstar-Ensemble, in welchem der Gestus jedes Beteiligten dem musikalischen Gewicht diametral widerspricht. Will sagen: (…) es waltet in diesem Engelsgesang ein schönes Understatement, eine sichere Ruhe, ja Abgeklärtheit. Zu schön, um nicht wahr zu sein, das Ganze.
Peter Rüedi, Die Weltwoche
Angel Song represents the coming together of four exceptional improvisors in a programme of music written by Kenny Wheeler. If the project's four protagonists have attributes in common, these have to do with artistic independence, measured not only in terms of the instrumental idiosyncrasies that define a style but also in a distance from whatever has been deemed the focal point of modern jazz at any given time. These four outsiders - Wheeler, Konitz, Frisell, Holland - united for the very first time as a quartet here, have almost always taken the road less travelled. The musical success of Angel Song has persuaded them to travel it together for a while; concert tours will be forthcoming.

Lee Konitz's apprenticeship in the Lennie Tristano "school" - whose output was not so much "cool" as astringent, a different kind of bracing from the tumultuousness of bebop - ensured that the saxophonist was amongst the very few alto players of his generation who did not sound like an echo of Charlie Parker. With Tristano in 1949 he took part in experiments which mark, at least on records (e.g. Crosscurrents), the first tentative steps towards a "free" jazz. Though perhaps better known for other "historical" statements - the Miles Davis Nonet, Gil Evans, his brief tenure with the Mingus Band - as well as the many albums under his own name, Konitz has never shied away from experimentalism. He played, for instance, with the group that became Circle in the early 1970s (after its dissolution, Dave Holland joined the Konitz Quartet briefly, and appeared on Lee's Satori album). In the 80s, Derek Bailey's Company was one of the more unorthodox settings for the saxophonist's long lines. As with each of his confrères on Angel Song, however, the improvisational impulse has always been balanced by a deeply-felt melodic sense. The present recording marks Konitz's first "full-length" appearance on ECM although, in 1995, he guested on the Atmospheric Conditions Permitting anthology (ECM 1549/50), which received the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis as jazz album of the year 1996.

Kenny Wheeler and Dave Holland have been in and out of each other's bands since the late 1960s after first playing together as members of the late John Stevens's Spontaneous Music Ensemble. They worked together as half of what was, arguably, Anthony Braxton's best quartet between 1973 and 1976. Holland appeared (alongside Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette) on Wheeler's acclaimed ECM debut Gnu High in 1975 and has appeared on the majority of the trumpeter's leader dates since then, including Deer Wan, Double Double You, Music For Large and Small Ensembles and The Widow In The Window. Furthermore, from 1983-87 Wheeler was a member of Holland's band and can be heard with the bassist on Jumpin In, Seeds of Time and The Razor's Edgea. Other shared ECM credits include George Adams's (recently-reissued) Sound Suggestions which features both bassist and trumpeter.

Wheeler, by his own account, is stylistically a "schizophrenic" musician: at least two players seem always to be competing for the upper hand in his solos. There is the melancholy romantic, influenced by Art Farmer and Kind Of Blue Miles and a much freer trumpeter, as expressive as Don Cherry or Tomasz Stanko. It would be difficult to say which of these Wheelers has been more inspirational to a generation of younger hornmen. As a writer, moreover, Wheeler has few equals in modern jazz - the buoyancy of his tunes and his taste for unusual harmonies has been much appreciated by his peers, and Dave Holland has acknowledged Wheeler's influence on his own composing.

The curve of Holland's own career has often been sketched by jazz journalists; it has become the stuff of near-legend. "Discovered" by Miles Davis at Ronnie Scott's Club and brought across the Atlantic to participate in the movement Miles led toward an electric/eclectic jazz, Holland abandoned ostinato based jazz rock as its popularity soared. He returned to free improvising and experimental jazz and gradually expanded his palette to deal with virtually all aspects of modern improvising, with ECM documenting his moves from 1971 onwards. His many ECM recordings include duo albums with Barre Phillips and Derek Bailey, Circle's Paris Concert, Contrasts with the Sam Rivers Quartet as well as seven albums as a bandleader, two solo recordings - Emerald Tears and Life Cycle - and four albums with the Gateway trio with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. Amongst his many virtues as a player is his perfect time, and his rhythmic assurance is such that the absence of a drummer on Angel Song, while noted, prompts no cause for alarm.

Bill Frisell was an all but unknown guitarist when ECM first showcased his abilities on Eberhard Weber's Fluid Rustle in 1979. Subsequent releases, including leader dates such as Rambler (with Kenny Wheeler) and group projects including Bass Desires, the Garbarek Group (circa Paths, Prints), the Paul Motian Trio, and the 1986/87 edition of the Paul Bley Quartet helped establish his guitar-sound as one of the most unique in the music. As journalist Kenny Mathieson has observed "his spidery, fine-spun filigree of delicate electric guitar lines is instantly recognisable in any of the widely varying contexts in which he plays." Although Frisell hasn't recorded as a leader or co-leader for ECM since Lookout For Hope in the late 80s, he has continued to make guest appearances on selected projects, including a particularly impassioned performance on Gavin Bryars's New Series album After The Requiem. His playing on Angel Song may be characterized as some of his most untypical work. The sustain and delay effects that he generally favours are supplanted by a "semi-acoustic" jazz guitar sound that makes roots in Wes Montgomery and, particularly, Jim Hall very evident.

Though it is difficult to pinpoint an album in jazz history that it resembles in any significant manner, Angel Song has the indefinable hallmarks of a classic of the genre. The level of musical interplay, throughout, is of the very highest order.