Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Working Alone: Kenny Werner’s Me, Myself & I

American musician Kenny Werner is one of those slightly unsung piano players whose work as a sideman often goes unnoticed (even though he’s recorded with John Scofield, Dave Holland and led his own trio for many years). On his new album, Me, Myself & I (Justin Time, 2012), which is set for release April 10th, Werner is left to his own devices on a solo piano recording that is full of great humour, spontaneity and grace. It was recorded in Montreal last June during the festival at a small club called the Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill.

The album contains seven compositions featuring a mix of the old and new. It opens with a mysterious study of Monk’s “Round Midnight” as Werner extends the track with a heady progression of melodic ideas. It’s an introspective version of the tune, where the rhythm and the musical idiosyncrasies of its composer sets up the listener for the entire album. Werner shows remarkable touch here, offering a distinctly sensitive rendition of the song.

The only original composition of Werner’s called “Balloons” is a 13-minute light motif that works a simple bass line phrase that repeats throughout, not wanting to resolve too soon. Trance-like, the image of its title and the lighter than air feel of its subject transports you. Then suddenly the melody appears halfway through and it’s a beautiful resolution. This composition was first recorded with a trio in 2010, but this solo interpretation offers a little more clarity.

Kenny Werner
Two standards grace the album, “All The Things You Are” and “A Child is Born.” The former is a very brief (under five minutes) while the latter is an extended version of the song. It’s really interesting to hear Werner work the chord changes and allow his ideas to easily flow. Werner performs a killer version of Joni Mitchell’s “I Had a King,” from her album Song for a Seagull released in 1968. It’s a gorgeous melody perfectly suited to Werner’s sensitivity. He consumes the source of the music as if he wrote it himself.

Kenny Werner’s ability as musician is matched by his ability to articulate his relationship to music, for which he’s become a familiar name in academic circles. He’s written several books including, Effortless Mastery (1996) that details his struggles with playing music, particularly jazz. It’s a book that I’ve heard a lot about from fellow musicians, because they were inspired by Werner’s personal stories. Admittedly, I’ve yet to read it, but perhaps I’ve become slightly complacent as of late. As Werner says in the liner notes, “…I never really practiced very much in my life. Bad study habits and an inability to concentrate was mostly the reason. But in recent years I’ve gotten better about it…technique clears all the brush between the player and his instrument leaving a completely clear playing field.”

Me, Myself & I is a marvelous record that is also free of pretense and ego. Clearly the practicing has paid off. For more about Kenny Werner, visit his website.

John Corcelli is a musician and broadcaster. His documentary about Wallace Hartley, bandmaster of the Titanic was broadcast on the CBC’s flagship current affairs program, The Sunday Edition. He's currently working on a radio documentary, with Kevin Courrier, for CBC Radio's Inside the Music called The Other Me: The Avant-Garde Music of Paul McCartney.

No comments:

Post a Comment