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Pianist Kenny Werner owns an impressive resume that includes stints with Charles Mingus, Joe Lovano, Lee Konitz, Randy Brecker and underscores his stature as one of the premier session musicians in the business. However, when Mr. Werner isn’t lending his considerable talents to others he often embarks on interesting solo endeavors such as “Unprotected Music”. On “Unprotected Music” Werner is supported by an all star rhythm section consisting of: Marc Johnson (bass) and Joey Baron (drums) who collectively add substantial depth and exuberance to this fine recording.
The opener “Displivet” commences with Baron cruising on his crisp sounding ride cymbal. Werner enters with an Ornette Coleman type groove. Johnson’s sense of time is impeccable and keeps the proceedings in order while Baron intermittently spars with Werner’s adventurous dabblings on the keys. “Dark” is a sublime, introspective tune featuring Werner’s sentimental passages of subtle beauty and grace. “Eight Groove” swings hard while Baron masterfully alters the tempo, comping with Werner’s exploratory grooves. Marc Johnson walks the bass through all registers as Baron and Werner play the tune with finesse and conviction. Werner is an improvisational virtuoso and maintains an uncanny ability to deconstruct a melody without sacrificing the songs overall identity. Not many can claim rights to such idiosyncrasies. “Luv” is a gorgeous ballad featuring a catchy melody. “Its Alright With Me” finds Werner and Baron frequently shifting gears at a feverish pace prodding Johnson to push his exceptional talents to the next stratosphere. On “Its Alright With Me” Werner also exhibits Bud Powell like single note runs and eventually moderates the swift pace to a soothing halt.
“Unprotected Music” borders on free jazz but not in the traditional sense. Werner, Johnson and Baron retain structure yet open up many avenues for creative expression and intriguing dialogue. A sense of openness and space prevails adding to the startling amount of depth to this recording. “Unprotected Music” is a unique listening experience and stacks up among the best of 1998.