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Kenny Werner: Beauty Secrets

Any talk of musical chameleons must surely put Kenny Werner near the top of the list. Since recording his first LP in 1977, a collection of piano music by Beiderbecke, Ellington, Gershwin and James P. Johnson, Werner went on to work and record with Mingus; tour with Archie Shepp; write for and play in the Mel Lewis Orchestra and, in the ’90s, led his own trio. He also worked and recorded with tenorman Joe Lovano, who appears on two tracks of this intriguing CD. A prolific composer-all but two of the dozen pieces are his-Werner starts the listener out on a musical trip that somewhat parallels his own. The first four tracks feature him in a straightahead trio setting with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Billy Hart. The album then “turns a corner,” as Werner puts it, as he and Lovano improvise on a Werner theme.

In his liner notes, Werner writes of having spent his “whole career trying to unite all my musical influences”, which here include a sprightly free-boppish quintet workout, a ruminative piece with violin and trio and Betty Buckley’s amazing rendition of “Send in the Clowns.” This challenging CD ends with two pieces where Werner is joined by strings; the closer, “Music from the Space,” is an ethereal performance of his poem.

Originally Published