Pianist/composer Kenny Werner is acclaimed for his 1996 book on the nature of creativity and its specific application to musical creation, Effortless Mastery—Liberating the Master Musician Within. So when he comes out with a new album, it seems to make sense to look at that album in the context of some of the ideas in that groundbreaking work.
The new album, featuring the Kenny Werner Trio, released this month, is aptly titled The Melody – aptly that is, depending on your idea of what is intended by melody. There is the conventional idea of melody as being synonymous with terms like tune, refrain and the like. Just to listen to the album’s opening track, the show tune “Try to Remember,” which doesn’t introduce the melody until well into track, makes it clear that Werner has something else in mind by the term.
Melody is the thing to be sliced and diced so that in the end it emerges enriched anew. While this approach has always been in large part the aim of great jazz, in the hands of Werner’s trio it defines the smooth relationship between the instrumentalists, who work together melodiously.
They are not three musicians working individually; they work together in a kind of mystical union. These instrumentalists lose themselves in the trio, and the trio loses itself in the music. It is the kind of mystical transformation Werner describes in the first chapter of Effortless Mastery: “We as musicians must surrender to the ocean of our inner selves. We must descend deep into that ocean while the sludge of the ego floats on the surface. We let go of our egos and permit the music to come through us and do its work. We act as the instruments for that work.”
The set includes seven tracks. There are impressive interpretations of Coltrane’s “26-2” and Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way.” Indeed, the Brubeck number becomes a kind of fantasia, filled with novel musical ideas ripe for exploration. There are also four Werner originals including “Balloons,” a shorter version of the 18-minute tune that appeared on Werner’s 2011 quintet album, Balloons. “Who?,” the oddly titled “Voncify the Emulyans,” and the haunting “Beauty Secrets” round out the set.
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