On first spin, the all-star quartet that plays trumpeter Wheeler’s chamber jazz songs on Angel Song sounds cramped, as if the British émigré’s compositions weren’t roomy enough to comfortably hold all their notes and egos. But on repeated listenings, the airtight interplay of Wheeler, alto saxist Lee Konitz, guitarist Bill Frisell, and bassist Dave Holland slowly releases its hermetic seal. The group’s interactions and dynamics are subtle and the players’ individual styles distinct, but what initially sounds like four voices simultaneously speaking separate sentences slowly congeals into a complete story. Wheeler plays romantically and brightly against Konitz’s weathered beauty, as Frisell’s web of sound wraps around the duo’s lyrical lines. Holland, who has played on all Wheeler’s ECM records and has featured the horn player in his own band, grounds the group’s improvisations without sacrificing his own; he’s as much the gate-crasher as the gatekeeper. While the album offers more Euro-style cerebral jazz than blues-based American swing, there’s still a warm spirit huddling inside the proceedings. Angel Song has been described as “celestial,” but its dense beauty is resolutely earthbound.

—Christopher Porter

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