1. Round Midnight
3. All The Things
4. Blue in Green
5. I Had a King
6. Giant Steps
7. A Child is Born
Kenny Werner - Piano
Piano soloists may feel exposed: playing entirely on their own without the cushion of bass and drums. As Kenny Werner says in the sleeve-notes, "In playing solo there's no one to react to". Most solo pianists tackle the loneliness in one of two ways. Either they supply their own bass rhythm with such devices as stride piano, or they simply ignore the possible problems and go ahead adventurously on their own.
Kenny Werner comes into the latter bracket on this CD, recorded in 2011 at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Werner clearly enjoys the freedom to stretch out, so that four of the seven tracks last more than ten minutes. Kenny says he found the ideas flowing and they certainly flow so fluently that parts of his improvisations may be hard to follow. For instance, his enigmatic introduction to Round Midmight left me wondering for some while what tune he was playing. After the tune becomes identifiable, Werner deals with it very freely: seemingly building up his extemporization from segments of the melody, and daringly displacing rhythm abd harmony.
He takes the same unrestrained approach to the other jazz standards on the album. All the Things (You Are) develops with extreme freedom of tempo, and continues that way for most of the track. Blue in Green (wrongly listed on the sleeve as Blue is Green) also disguises the melody and takes it in various unexpected directions for 13 minutes. Kenny's independent reading of the tune resembles some of Keith Jarrett's solo piano work: moving from improvisations on the theme to rhapsodic passages which seem almost to be melodies on their own.
In a way, this approach suits Giant Steps perfectly, as John Coltrane's tune moves in mysterious ways. A Child is Born is taken more directly, although it is another long track in which Kenny seems to wander at will after stating Thad Jones's glorious theme. He even whistles in unson with the piano. Joni Mitchell's I Had a King has an oriental feel and Werner's use of the bell-like upper register is rather clangorous. Balloons is the only original composition on the album and it has a persistent ostinato which becomes irritating, especially as the doodling on top feels inconsequential. The tune's title is inappropriate, as the music seldom flies skywards. But this is the only disappointment on the CD.
In the sleeve-notes, Kenny Werner calls this album "one of my best offerings" and I am inclined to agree.