Solo Brilliance from Kenny Werner
In the year of Vijay Iyer, with great double live albums by Fred Hersch and a rediscovery from Bill Evans, it wouldn’t be fair to let these last couple of months sneak off without counting Kenny Werner’s richly melodic live solo set Me Myself & I among the best piano jazz albums of recent months. Werner is a band guy – he likes to play off other people and vice versa. He also, by his own admission, doesn’t like to practice. But having been working up his chops for a separate project, he felt up to doing a solo gig at the 2011 Montreal Jazz Festival. Having been at the festival the night he was playing and…um…opting to see a different show, the reaction after hearing this was part regret for having missed such a magical night, part gratitude that Werner had the foresight to make a live record out of it.
Werner takes his time slipping into Round Midnight, bringing a glimmering neoromantic edge spiced by a handful of smartly placed bolero allusions, a little messing with the rhythm, spiraling down to a terse nocturne and then swinging it again. Balloons, a moody, modally fueled original edges in and out of waltz time, shifting from gleaming apprehension to a dark, flamenco-tinged High Romantic angst. By contrast, Werner briskly runs the changes throughout All the Things before shifting into expansive waves of tersely tuneful variations. He does the same a bit later on with Giant Steps, precise righthand chromatics anchored firmly in lefthand murk.
He plays Blue Is Green as a September song, with an understatedly towering intensity, finally hits the blues head-on and then lets it down gracefully. The real surprise here is fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell’s I Had a King, where Werner works his way from allusively moody, to incorporate hints of vaudeville and ragtime before ending with a creepy chromatic flourish. The last song on the album is Thad Jones’ pretty ballad A Child Is Born, juxtaposing minimalist opacity against an unexpectedly wary, almost rubato waltz, a couple of devious false endings and a long series of crescendos that are a clinic in how to develop a theme for maximum impact. For tracks that go on as long as these do – up to almost fifteen minutes – Werner never loses sight of the melody or the mood. The album’s out now from Justin Time. Memo to self: next time in Montreal…
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