Kenny Werner: Balloons (2011)
Lawn Chair Society (Blue Note, 2007) was a more eclectic set, with Werner exploring the possibilities of integrating technology into the improvisational process. While it also featured a consistent (albeit completely different) group of players throughout, the inherent cohesion of a live recording gives Balloons greater focusand greater energy, not unlike the earlier, also-live Democracy (Half Note, 2006). Four long songsthree in the 12- minute range, one approaching 18and "songs" is, indeed, the operative word: while there is plenty of space for effortless and effervescent soloing from everyone, the lyrical nature of Werner's writing encourages his band mates to remain focused on melody, eschewing the "head-solo-head" tradition for something more expansive, more cinematic.
Werner's been using this same frontline of trumpeter Randy Brecker and David Sanchez for a couple years now, and it shows in the duo's ability to coalesce into a near- single voice for the theme of the poignant opener, "Sada," layered over simple descending and ascending pattern, where their lines shift, almost imperceptibly, between unison and harmony, leading to a solo from Werner that perfectly demonstrates the pianist's long-revered approach to the creative process, Effortless Mastery (Jamey Aebersold, 1996). It's clear his band mates subscribe to a similar aesthetic, as Sanchez deliver a solo that, bolstered by Patitucci and drummer Antonio Sanchez, builds to a passionate peak and, after a recapitulation of the theme, goes out on a vamp where Brecker's vocal tone is more about color than melody.
Brecker gets his chance to solo at length on the brighter "Siena," and while his range, accuracy and control of timbre are underlying qualities, it's his similarly thematic approach that makes it one of the set's many highlights, propelled by drummer Sanchez's always marvelous ability to create turbulent underpinnings that still facilely hang onto the propulsive groove.
Live performances are often about being in a moment that, once over, is gone forever, but with Balloons, Werner has managed to capture that moment, and hold onto it in a way that will remains freshand filled with surprisefor years to come.
Track Listing: Sada; Siena; Balloons; Class Dismissed.
Personnel: Kenny Werner: piano; Randy Brecker: trumpet; David Sanchez: tenor saxophone; John Patitucci: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums.
Record Label: Half Note Records
Style: Modern Jazz