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Kenny Werner: The Space

Dan Bilawsky By

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Need can be the greatest enemy of the improvising artist, as the hunger to prove oneself, the self-inflicted imperative demanding the addressing of a naked canvas, and a deep-seated desire to create all tend to have a stunting effect, engendering the exact opposite result of what it means to truly live in the moment. Only with an embrace of the space, a true release from conscious decision-making, can an artist paint without caution and explore to the fullest. Pianist Kenny Werner knows this better than most, as he's delved into this phenomenon in depth. He's addressed the topic in detail in the groundbreaking Effortless Mastery (Jamey Aebersold, 1996), a text that's become a go-to reference for musicians in need of a dose of perspective and a line to self-help, and he's practiced what he preaches throughout his career. Now, with this stunning solo release, he places the concept in true light.

Werner's searches for freedom have often been clothed in collaborative zeal. His passion for people is apparent to anybody who's heard his trio dates on Pirouet, spied his duo dalliance with vocalist Joyce Moreno, checked in on his meetings with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, or observed any of his other brilliant projects from the recent past. But in every one of those instances, regardless of who's in the picture and how the relationships play out, a yen for zen and the gift for letting go are what carry Werner's fingers afar. And with that in mind, it should come as no shock that this unassisted recital focuses on those very ideals. Werner's wisdom, patience, strengths and subtleties add up to one satisfying step away in The Space.

Opening with the title track, a lengthy manifesto on the art of restraint and the simple mysteries connecting movement and time, Werner makes no claims beyond his own release. He operates in an open zone that scares many away, but his experience shields him from the arrows of expectation that drive others to a more insulated arena. Werner could have easily filled an entire album with such questioning tones, but he immediately cuts another way by gamboling across Keith Jarrett's "Encore From Tokyo." That pairing of tracks proves analogous to the idea of a sunny day sweeping away life's uncertainties.

In Werner's own constructs—the curious odyssey at the point of embarcation, the tethered-yet-tempted "Fifth Movement," and the wistful "Fall From Grace"—there's a clear acknowledgement of acceptance, but it's almost more instructive to observe how this man interacts with the other material on this date. With the two standards—"You Must Believe In Spring" and "If I Should Lose You," both lyrically prone to melding love with seasonal suggestions—Werner demonstrates how realities are influenced both by implied emotions and instinct. And on a pair of compositions from the pen of producer and label co-founder Jason Seizer—the lightly bounding "Taro" and the introspective and beautifully elusive "Kiyoko"—the pianist fastens his spirit to the songs without forcing a certain outcome or route. Regardless of the shape a piece may take, the space, not surprisingly, always serves Kenny Werner well.

Track Listing: The Space; Encore from Tokyo; Fifth Movement; You Must Believe In Spring; Taro; Kiyoko; If I Should Lose You; Fall from Grace.

Personnel: Kenny Werner: piano.

Title: The Space | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Pirouet Records

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