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Kenny Werner: New, Transcendent Sounds

By Published: October 11, 2010
"Accidents are very often chaotic moments. But I'm not enough of a technician, as far as orchestration, to hit the chaos right on the button and not have to change anything. There are writers that can dash their things off and then send them away. I have to hear them and then write them again. I had to weed through the chaos that worked and the chaos that was exacting, and attach parts of it that maybe I didn't think were the strongest parts in the beginning, and now I realize that they were. I had the benefit of hindsight and really improved the piece a lot. Between that and the time we had to rehearse it and the level of players, we got a performance that I was pretty happy with."

"That's the story of that piece," remarks Werner. "Retaining the anguish of the melody, I was able to craft, a couple years later, the rest of it and not lose the anguish. The choir piece ["Visitation: Waves of Unborn"] came as a sort of divine intervention. Both Jeff and my wife Lorraine thought there should be choir on the piece. The suggestion that I write choir for it made me feel I had to write a choir piece also, as a companion piece. I ended up keeping the companion piece and never writing a choir part. Which was great. Now we had a five-movement wind ensemble, a choir, a string quartet, and then what I call 'Coda,' pulling some of the mallet players and the harp player, Riza Hequibal, she is just amazing. She's such a great player and so good improvisational. Riza played what I intended to write, whether it was that way or not. She could figure out what it was I was trying to say and where it needed to be situated."

Werner joined on piano in "Coda," based on the idea of an Indian raga.

The composer is also quick to credit Lovano for his engaging way of carrying out Werner's writing and feeling.

"I don't know if there is anyone else who could have done that because a lot of what he played was written. It was written to sound like him," he says of Lovano's participation. "You might say why did I write them? Why didn't I just let him blow through? Because this thing moves in an incredibly precise way and yet the idea is the same thing I try to achieve in my trio. As precise as it is, it should feel like things are flowing into each other. The importance of the precision has to be done from a relaxed place; leaves blowing in a tree. Who can predict what it's doing? But it's moving perfectly. Waves coming in and out. The band moves like that and undulates like that. Then has these points where they meet. There has to be great precision that is done with ease. If you listen to the fourth movement and some of the second movement, he has to move in a very precise way. You find the band backing him up almost as if I was comping for him. The only way to do that is for him to play the lines where they're supposed to be played.

"This is what Joe has evolved into as an artist. He was, when he was younger, as burning as anybody could possibly burn. He'd burn you out—he'd burn out the drummers, he'd burn out the piano players. It was almost better not to have a pianist. He has evolved into a player where every phrase has such wisdom in it."

Lovano and Silvano did not record live with the orchestra, but the results are impressive. "It sounds like there's no time at all, yet things are meeting," says Werner. "He's doing this in a little box of a studio without a conductor. It's quite phenomenal when you add the fact t that he can't see a conductor to say, 'OK, right here is where the bass clarinets are going to meet you.' So he's doing all that."

Adds Werner, "I don't think Joe knows how to play a phrase anymore without wisdom and depth to it. He can't just play notes. If there's one benefit in going from young to old, that's probably the benefit. Some people get more wisdom as they get older, but not everyone who gets older becomes wise. There are some musicians where the wisdom and the depth... Wayne Shorter. Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
1927 - 2004
. Herbie Hancock. Every decade you see them, it seems like every sound was drenched with more meaning, depth. Two notes from Wayne Shorter would wipe out a thousand from any young guy. Joe is like that. Every phrase has this depth, wisdom, meaning, grace. Joe can be classic and be new at the same time. It's crazy. He plays new, fresh stuff in a classic way. Of all the guys alive right now, he's practically the whole damn tradition of the music. I always call Joe a purebred. Me, I'm a square peg in a round hole. I didn't exactly fit jazz, I didn't exactly fit this, I didn't exactly fit that... spend a lifetime trying to find parameters that are you. Hopefully, someday you're appreciated for that."

Werner received a Guggenheim Fellowship for the work and hopes to be playing it live in the larger New York City venues like Alice Tulley Hall, Carnegie Hall, Zankel Hall or Jazz at Lincoln Center. "If we do that, we'll do it just as it goes down. The wind ensemble piece, the choir, the string quartet and the coda."

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