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Kenny Werner: The Melody

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The Pirouet label out of Germany has established itself as a haven for pianists of staunch scholarship possessing an exquisite touch. Few fit that description better than Kenny Werner, who literally wrote the book on creativity-Effortless Mastery is his well-regarded tome. The rhythm section Werner mentored to fruition, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and drummer Ari Hoenig, has been with him on a half-dozen trio discs over the past 15 years. The duo has released a number of its own instructional music books and videos over the year, such as Metric Modulations: Expanding and Contracting Time Within Form.

Not surprisingly, then, The Melody rewards learned listening. This is a trio whose telepathy is backed by a library of shared knowledge and method. It is well over two minutes into the disc before Werner fully reveals that the opening number is the off-Broadway hit “Try to Remember,” but the three musicians are in sync and most of the ruminations in the prelude make their way back into the mix, along with a seemingly left-field quote from the calypso “St. Thomas.” In a similar fashion, the affectionate intro Dave Brubeck gave to “In Your Own Sweet Way” is scrapped in favor of something brisk and impulsive, the staccato, stabbing notes akin to an implacable “new classical” work until Werner abruptly dives into Brubeck’s melody. Yet 30 seconds later he’s back on the more antic path, eventually shifting back and forth more readily until the two motifs converge into a brisker Brubeck. Coltrane’s “26-2,” from the late ’50s, is rendered straight and playfully, with its harmonic complexity intact and Hoenig enjoying the same sort of primacy afforded Elvin Jones in the original.

Among his four originals, Werner chooses to reprise two sparkling title tracks from his past discs-“Beauty Secrets” (from 2000, the first time he recorded with Hoenig and Weidenmueller) and “Balloons.” Both feature durable melodies, which of course the trio tinkers with like Rubik’s Cubes.

Originally Published