Thursday, 1 May 2008

Kenny Werner...

Just finished reviewing the new Bobby Previte CD, a review extended to twice the normal word limit to become one of the new 'feature' reviews introduced in the last issue. Not a challenge at all, because I could write a book about Previte and how much I've taken from his music in the last two decades.

An interesting challenge, however, came from my good friend Louise who gave me a list of half a dozen strategically chosen words that I had to try to include in the review. Luckily 'artichoke' and 'theodolite' didn't appear on the list, and all of the words found their way in. When you eventually get to read the piece it should hopefully make perfect sense.

For the time being, here's a review of a CD with one of the best track titles I've ever seen - 'Voncify the Emulyans'. Perhaps Werner was playing word games too? If anybody can explain what he was alluding to, feel free to leave a comment...

Beat Degeneration Live Volume 2

Little Blue Man; Trio Imitation; Yump; Guru (Dedicated to Claude Corriere); Voncify The Emulyans; Melodies of 2002; Beat Degeneration

Kenny Werner (p); Johannes Weidenmuller (b); Ari Hoenig (d)
Recorded Novenber 2000.

Without being a unique or instantly recognisable voice on his instrument, Kenny Werner has been a force to reckon with as both leader and sideman for some time now. He is a player that any devotee of post-bop piano needs to be aware of, but he's the kind of musician it's all too easy to take for granted. The trio formation is one he often returns to, and after a long-standing band with Ratzo Harris and Tom Rainey, he has recently flirted with one-off ‘all-star’ super trios.

Beat Degeneration is the second volume of live recordings made in Paris by his latest less stellar line-up. With Weidenmuller and Hoenig, he has to my ears found the unit that best focuses his often diffuse approach. All compositions are by Werner, and although I enjoy hearing him deconstruct a standard, the themes are worthy of his considerable pianism. ‘Trio Imitation’, the longest track, is the highlight of this consistently engaging disc. An unaccompanied Debussian intro segues into a rhapsodic Evans-like poem, only to then slip into Miles’ ‘It’s About That Time’, here underpinned by tight rhythmic patterns borrowed from the world of hip-hop.

On paper it may sound like a contrived mix’n’match, yet in execution it is wholly convincing. ‘Yump’ is a fast swinger with the rhythmic sense of Tyner and Corea, breaking down into a bass/drum duo which stretches time in a manner that would shock even Dali. ‘Guru’, a further homage to Bill Evans, develops into a Jarrett-like trance groove, though Werner’s vocalisations take things a little too close to jazz’s pre-eminent body gurner for comfort, and are my only gripe over any aspect of the disc.

The playing of the trio is so self-assured that no precision somersault is too audacious – challenging music that succeeds as entertainment too. Beat Degeneration amply demonstrates why Werner deserves to be known as far more than just a talented sideman. Buy with confidence.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, March 2003).

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