Kenny Werner: No Beginning, No End

To suffer the death of a child, writes Kenny Werner in the notes to “No Beginning, No End,” is “the worst nightmare of a parent’s life.” Werner knows that anguish intimately: His only child, Katheryn, was killed in an auto accident four years ago at age 16. But from that unspeakable loss he has created a work of art, joined by dear friends Joe Lovano and Judi Silvano (“Uncle Joe” and “Aunt Judi” to Katheryn), conductor Fred Harris Jr., a string quartet and large woodwind and choral ensembles recruited by colleagues at New York University.

The title composition is a piece in five movements. “Death Is Not the End” (which a typo has misnamed “Death Is Not the Answer” on the CD packaging) opens with Werner, Lovano and Silvano improvising a flurry of darting, lighter-than-air notes meant to convey Katheryn’s creative energy in life. Deeper-toned horns enter and build ominously to booming percussion and yet more horns, symbolizing the crash. From there the five movements are used to explore Werner’s thoughts on life, time, spiritual and familial connection and death, thoughts informed by Eastern transcendentalism. Silvano singing Werner’s lyrics helps make those hopeful thoughts explicit; Lovano’s evocative tenor saxophone helps make them be felt.

A lush, celestial-sounding choral piece, “Visitation: Waves of Unborn,” follows the title work, and is Werner’s attempt “to imagine what music might sound like on the other side, that wondrous place where souls dwell between assignments.” A string-quartet piece of mournful beauty, “Cry Out,” was begun during the first months of Werner’s grief, and he considers it perhaps his “best pure composition to date.” The disc concludes with “Coda,” a gorgeously atmospheric improvisation on which Werner and his piano are joined by vibraphone, marimba and harp. Katheryn lives on in her father’s heartfelt tribute.