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Album Review

Janis Mann & Kenny Werner: Dreams of Flying

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Janis Mann & Kenny Werner: Dreams of Flying
Janis Mann has quietly but steadily amassed an impressive body of work over the course of more than two decades. For this, the vocalist's eighth album, she brings studio and stage into beautiful alignment with different, intimate configurations hinging on the constant presence of pianist Kenny Werner. The majority of this music was recorded in 2016 at New York's Samurai Hotel Recording Studio, with key collaborator Werner and, more often than not, the rhythm combo of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca surrounding the singer. But several tracks were captured in concert three years later, at Capitol Studios on the opposite coast, with guitarist Larry Koonse dropping in as a guest to occasionally enhance the atmosphere surrounding the Mann-Werner pairing. This mix-and-match programming approach works quite well, showcasing a tasteful and inventive singer joined by her pianist of choice in complimentary settings.

Mann's selection of repertoire is just as important as her measured yet creative approach. Largely avoiding Broadway-turned-jazz fare and heavily covered classics in favor of latter-day (new) jazz standards drawn from singer-songwriters, she puts her indelible imprint on the work of everybody from Jimmy Webb to Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell to Sandy Denny. Yes, there are a number of stops along the way that speak to purer jazz or cabaret corners—an appropriately heartbreaking take on a gem from Johnny Mandel and the Bergmans, a live trio trip through a Blossom Dearie chestnut, an appreciation of Stephen Sondheim's work in the penultimate position—but the majority of the music looks beyond those borders, mining the work of sophisticated pop tunesmiths with pliant personalities.

Sensitivity reigns supreme right from the start with an entrancing take on "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress." Then Mann breathes space and perspective into "Edith and the Kingpin," meets up with Werner on stage for a twilit duo trip through "Wichita Lineman" and has her way with a rhythmically malleable, emotionally invigorating "Overjoyed." All the while her bandmates prove to be models of creative support. Werner, actuated by the acts of interpretation and collaboration, knows just how to perform, react and fill each canvas without overcoloring; Gress anchors the harmony with smart choices and a round sound, playing inside without resorting to bland ballasting; and Da Fonseca's experience and stellar instincts tell him just when to lay into a groove, stretch the fabric of the beat or sit back and allow a less-is-more mindset to rule the kit.

The album's core four have additional opportunities to work their magic—on "Where Do You Start?," with a back-to-back double shot of Simon in the form of a gravity-reduced "I Do It For Your Love" and measured "American Tune"—and the piano-and-voice duo gets one more look during the haunting and nostalgia-laced "When October Goes." But the end of the album really belongs to the Mann-Werner-Koonse trio. In short order, with the connective currents of "Inside a Silent Tear," dewy-eyed yet dynamic "I Remember" and position-appropriate "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" closer, this group proves every bit as special as the duo and quartet. Mann ultimately triumphs with all of them, using her magnetic vocals as the through line on Dreams of Flying.

Track Listing

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress; Edith and the Kingpin; Wichita Lineman; Overjoyed; Where Do You Start?; I Do It For Your Love; American Tune; When October Goes; Inside a Silent Tear; I Remember; Who Knows Where the Time Goes?.

Personnel

Janis Mann: voice / vocals; Kenny Werner: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Duduka Da Fonseca: drums; Larry Koonse: guitar, electric.

Album information

Title: Dreams of Flying | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Pancake Records

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