Democracy: Live at the Blue Note
Half Note Records
The photograph on pianist Kenny Werner’s Democracy is misleading. He’s wearing a sequined bow tie with an American flag motif, and he’s looking grumpy behind a pair of shades. This might suggest he’s sour about the current state of the union or that his record will be a serious, stuffy, buttoned-down affair. All that this proves is that you can’t judge a disc by its jacket.
The February 2006 Blue Note stand by Werner’s group amounts to a standard-bearer of timeless postbop. The quintet is top-shelf, all the way. Saxophonist David Sanchez shares the spotlight with Werner on much of the outing, trumpeter Matt Shulman performs more than ably and the in-demand rhythm section of drummer Brian Blade and bassist Scott Colley never lets up. Trumpeter Kenny Wheeler makes a guest appearance on the final number.
Werner’s storytelling nature informs everything he does. Each tune has a narrative arc with peaks and valleys, challenges and resolutions, subplots and climaxes. He begins the opener, “Democracy Now,” with a plaintive solo before the rest of the group joins in and paints a lush, pastoral theme behind him. Sanchez, who has widened his palette beyond Latin jazz, gives up a defiant, agitated solo as Werner’s forceful comping urges him on. “Fish Gotta Fly,” a modal number that brings to mind Miles Davis’ great ’60s quintet, finds Werner laying down thick chords with his left hand and daring runs with his right, and he performs a gorgeous unaccompanied solo on “Untitled Lament” that draws on his classical background. A fiery take on “Hedwig’s Theme” from the Harry Potter movies reinforces the idea that Werner brings a novelist’s sense of plotting to his work. Full of stormy, dynamic playing by all six musicians, it is indeed a magical 10 minutes.