Throughout much of Beauty Secrets, Kenny Werner is at his best. Accompanied by Drew Gress on bass and Billy Hart on drums, the pianist glides and romps through the first four selections, including the tightly constructed "Scufflin’" and the rhythmic brainteaser "Jackson Five." Then, preceding and following the staggeringly complex "Bumper Jumper" (a feature for tenorist Tony Malaby and four other up-and-coming jazzers) are two brief, graceful duets with tenor sax star Joe Lovano. Violinist Mark Feldman next appears for the angular, eerie "Goblins." And "Little Appetites," a tune with strong echoes of Herbie Nichols, brings back the trio that started the record. The many sonic shifts and personnel changes up to this point are held together by Werner’s unique compositional style and sterling piano work.
But when Werner brings in Betty Buckley for a piano/vocal rendition of "Send In the Clowns," he pushes the envelope a bit too far. Buckley has done beautiful work with Werner elsewhere (check out the duo’s Heart to Heart on KO Records), but here she seems out of place, and the song falls flat. Werner then derails the record entirely with two ill-advised experiments, the syrupy "You Make Me Sing" and the ponderous "Music From the Space." Of course, when it comes to making music, there’s much to be said for taking risks. But these flights of fancy mar what would have otherwise been a great album.