Me, Myself & I
Justin Time Records
In the liner notes to his latest CD, Kenny Werner expresses a dislike of performing solo because “there’s no one to react to.” Hence the scarcity of solo outings in the pianist’s considerable discography, which is dominated by his renowned trio work. The title of this disc, in fact, references another trio, although all three members are Werner himself, suggesting that perhaps he found someone to react to after all.
That suggestion is confirmed on the opening track, a 10-minute-plus exploration of “’Round Midnight.” Werner can be heard occasionally throughout the piece interjecting short expressions of wonder, apparently surprising himself at the discoveries he makes during his intricate excavation of the Monk standard. His rendition refuses to stick to the beaten path of the piece as written, wandering hidden byways and making strange deviations that render one of jazz’s most ubiquitous works almost unfamiliar.
The sounds of clinking silverware in the background, recorded live at the Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill during the 2011 Montreal Jazz Festival, further isolates Werner, suggesting life going on in the distance while he becomes lost in his own musical ruminations. His “Balloons” pares the quintet piece back to a melancholy left-hand ostinato and a delicate melody that persistently strays into the folksong “Barbara Allen.”
Werner’s famous sense of playfulness isn’t entirely absent, however, as he tosses off “Giant Steps” with a casual warmth. And he complements the Eastern European flourishes of Joni Mitchell’s “I Had a King” with whistling, finding accompaniment even while alone.