Pianist Kenny Werner named The Space—a solo piano recording—after a concept in his celebrated musical-psychospiritual book Effortless Mastery. A few seconds of its opening 16-minute title track make clear that he also uses the term in a practical sense. The piece uses so much internal space that it often reads as a study in tone decay. Rhythmic momentum takes about five minutes to build, and those five minutes are a tough listen.
From there, however, The Space seems to change the subject entirely. Amorphous abstraction gives way to a deliriously sprightly take on Keith Jarrett’s “Encore from Tokyo” that sounds more like Bud Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare” in terms of both gait (particularly odd, since Jarrett played the song nearly as ethereally as Werner plays “The Space”) and richness of ideas. The album never quite replicates that rhythmic zing. Still, “If I Should Lose You” comes close; Werner’s “Fifth Movement” is a quirky gavotte but a gavotte nonetheless; and saxophonist (and Pirouet Records artistic director) Jason Seizer’s “Taro” is a little vague harmonically, but its swing is firm. (Another Seizer composition, “Kiyoko,” is an exquisite ballad, but also has a rhythmic constant.)
Thus “The Space” seems on first listen to be a digression, which is a shambolic way to open an album. Further examinations, however, reveal that it really does set a tone. The Space takes great care with touch and timbre, as much on the maddest scurries of “Encore from Tokyo” as on the tender, funereal chord voicings of “Fall from Grace” or the title track’s aural diffusion. Werner’s abstract notion of “the space” is “the place where every note I play is the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard”; what he’s onto may not be entirely user-friendly, but he is onto something.