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Half Note Records: Live from the Blue Note

Bob Kenselaar By

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Werner's Institute of Higher Learning (Half Note, 2011) is an example of the recent releases on Half Note that have been recorded at locations other than the Blue Note- -in this case, in Belgium. "One thing about our long relationship with Werner is that each of the projects showcases a different facet of what he does. A lot of people know him as a killer pianist. He's also a killer composer and conceptualizer. Institute of Higher Learning has him with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra in a big band context. Before that we did Baloons(2011), a quintet record with Randy Brecker, David Sanchez, John Patitucci and Antonio Sanchez, live at the Blue Note. And earlier we did Peace (2004) with Johannes Weidenmueller and Ari Hoenig, his classic trio, also at the Blue Note. The idea has been to develop projects designed to showcase this great, 360-degree musician."

An especially important recording of Werner's on Half Note is No Beginning, No End (2010), which presents the composition that won him a Guggenheim Fellowship, written in tribute to his daughter, Katheryn. "She was a vibrant, vital young woman who embodied the life spirit that we all love to see and celebrate," recalls Levenson. "She died tragically, and Kenny was in a place that none of us really want to even know about, just very deep pain. And he composed a masterwork of incredible beauty, warmth and emotion. I've worked very closely with him over the years, and I was stunned that he had this stuff in him. To this day, he's convinced that at that moment in his life he was a channel. Something passed through him. It's a really awe- inspiring creation. The record involved a hundred musicians. Kenny had a lot of friends who wanted to pitch in and dedicate themselves to the healing process. He got help from Joe Lovano and Judi Silvano, very dear friends who were close to Katheryn, and we had help from New York University and Dave Schroeder, the director of jazz studies there. I'm extremely proud of the record. It's like nothing else that I've heard in the jazz canon."

Another pianist with a close connection to Half Note Records is McCoy Tyner. To date, he's recorded three CDs jointly released by Half Note and McCoy Tyner Music: Solo: Live from San Francisco (2009), Guitars (2008) and McCoy Tyner Quartet (2007). "McCoy is an important part of the family," says Levenson. "The Blue Note isn't just a jazz club in New York. There are the clubs in Milan and Japan. The Blue Note books festivals elsewhere. There's the recording division, Half Note. And the Blue Note manages artists, including McCoy. When he came here close to ten years ago, he was eager to work, eager to do things. I think McCoy is one of these guys who could not function unless he worked. Being on the road is home for him, as oxymoronic as that sounds. Doing projects with him has turned out to be a lot of fun. We did the solo record at the San Francisco Jazz Festival. The Guitars album was really interesting, paring him with Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Marc Ribot, Derek Trucks and Béla Fleck. I guess we cheated a little calling it Guitars, since Béla is in the mix. I've never asked him if he was insulted by being referred to as a guitarist." In addition to Fleck and the guitarists, the album features bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack DeJohnette. The personnel on the 2007 quartet release is equally impressive: saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts.

Levenson is convinced that Tyner will continue to produce a good deal more great music in years to come. "He has a hunger to do things. Many people would assume that at his age he'd want to phone it in or give it a rest, but that's just not his nature."

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