Review: LJO/Windmill Tilter at Wavendon

Roger Farbey at Music In The Garden in Wavendon hails the first live performance of what is "without question one of the great works of jazz"

Although not blisteringly hot, it was certainly warm enough to sit in the luxurious settings of the garden stage at The Stables, surely the true shrine of jazz outside of London. The London Jazz Orchestra (pictured right) was out in force for this special occasion. Under the indefatigable direction of Scott Stroman, the personnel included such big hitters as Henry Lowther on trumpet and flugelhorn, Chris Laurence on bass, Dave Powell on tuba, Stuart Hall on guitar, Pete Hurt on tenor sax and Martin Hathaway and Martin Speake on alto sax.

The grand occasion was the first live performance of the entire Windmill Tilter suite written by the late, great Kenny Wheeler and commissioned by John Dankworth in 1968 when Kenny had been indisposed and unable to work. It was recorded under the JD orchestra’s imprimatur but was associated closely with its composer as his first major work. The album recording (for the Fontana label), based on the tale of the hapless Don Quixote and now thankfully reissued by BGO on CD, featured, along with Wheeler, two other rising stars - John McLaughlin and Dave Holland - and is rightly regarded as a classic. But as Scott Stroman explained to the packed garden audience, it hadn’t been given a full airing until now. Parts of the work had been played publicly but never the full suite. Also, Stroman gave a special mention of thanks to Stuart Hall who had made several trips to Wavendon to study the original scores on behalf of the orchestra.

The first half of the afternoon’s performance featured a miscellany of works by various members of the big band, including ones by Stuart Hall and tenor saxophonist Josephine Davies. The proceedings kicked off appropriately enough with one of Sir John Dankworth’s compositions, the timeless theme from the Tomorrow’s World television show. This first set concluded with a dazzling arrangement by lead trumpeter and LJO stalwart Noel Langley of Elgar’s Nimrod.

Kenny Wheeler, who passed away last year, was a founder member of the London Jazz Orchestra and it was a fitting tribute that the full performance of his suite took place at Wavendon, Cleo Laine and John Dankworth’s home and also a home to music since 1969. So in the second half, the performance of Windmill Tilter realised every possible expectation. It was simply spectacular and truly brought the work to life. Henry Lowther and Robbie Robson took turns to play the Wheeler trumpet and flugelhorn parts and the near-hour long recital was thrilling particularly in the knowledge, as Scott Stroman reminded the audience, that Lowther, one of British jazz’s great heroes, had played on the original recording. What was especially notable about this performance was that Windmill Tilter has neither dated nor lost its immediate and immense impact. It is without question one of the great works of jazz.

The short encore was one of John Dankworth’s favourite Ellington numbers, Tonight I Shall Sleep (With A Smile On My Face) and thus concluded probably the British jazz gig of the year.

Text and photos by Roger Farbey

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