Best Of The Batch: John Wheeler
Artist: John Wheeler
Title: Big Orange
Genre: Instrumental Jazz-Rock-Fusion
John Wheeler is a self-professed, uncompromising artist. I believe him after hearing his story and listening to the new CD, Big Orange. The title refers to a saying one of his coworkers used to have when it was to time go get a drink. The fascinating and colorful cover is a picture taken at the Tate Modern Museum in England. The picture is actually upside down and cropped. The people you see littered about actually lay down on the floor to see their own reflection coming off the ceiling.
My first thoughts and impressions were that the sun had moved so close to the earth that everyone was dropping like flies. A nice concept for a sci-fi flick soundtrack, I suppose. Anyway, I found it all very intriguing and asked for an explanation, which John was very willing to give me along with some thoughts about this project.
This was a very expensive venture, as any good recording is. However, the catch is that all the proceeds for album sales will go to Amnesty International, which is a very noble cause with a great album behind it to make all of that happen.
Big Orange is an assorted mixture, featuring straight-ahead jazz, rock, fusion, and some interesting, complex phrasing with the guitar and saxophones, particularly on tracks like "Nothin' To It." Then when you hear "Selma," you fall into a smoother contemporary jazz vibe with well-placed stinging rock guitar licks to lull and entrance you at the same time, which I absolutely love.
Interestingly enough, the track "Wake-up Call" begins with unconventional banjo-style country licks from Wheeler's incredibly versatile six-string; now if that does not embody the word diverse, what does after hearing the previous tracks? As it turns out, it is one of the funkiest numbers on the album and most interesting with rapidly changing moods, a rooster crowing on occasion, and a violin, which comes in at just at the right time to complete this barnyard ball of fusion.
The title track just had to be the flat-out rocker of the lot and is it ever. You would never know Wheeler is a jazzman listening to him on this smoker -- he is much more than that of course. "Big Orange" is a bit too short, but it's rock, not jazz or fusion, so it fits the mold. I am complaining because I did not want it to end!
Wheeler transgresses boundaries that may impede his progress often and shows off all his colors within this one recording. This is why the CD does not hint of any commercialism. It was a bit self-indulgent on the musicians' behalf, playing it all their own way but thank god they did because it is a great listen!
This kind of album you will listen to many times before it finally settles into your psyche. Only then will you be able to look at each individual composition as a stand-alone work of musical art. I love it when it all comes together and you can look at the cover, understand it (thanks again John), read the titles of the songs, which have no words, and find the meaning and interpretation hidden between the notes somehow.
It never happens with one listen. That is the challenge and adventure of music like this and exactly why I enjoy it so completely.
01. Jogo Bonito (5:21)
02. Dragon's Breath (4:56)
03. Nothin' To It (5:23)
04. Selma (4:56)
05. Slightly Blue (2:14)
06. Big Orange (2:30)
07. Procession (2:32)
08. Hall of 100 Mirrors (2:38)
09. Okami (4:41)
10. Wake-up Call (4:38)
11. Eleventh Dimension (4:32)
12. Miles Above (6:02)
13. Ambiance Musicale (1:40)
Tom Delaney: alto, tenor and soprano saxes, flute.
Mike Kirkhouse: electric and fretless bass guitars
Billy Slais: tenor sax
Chris Smith: drums
Kevin Tokarz: keyboards
John Wheeler: electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, synthesizers.
Ben Wilborn: violin
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