This one's quite unlike any other jazz album.
Martin Longley 2007-04-26
Werner was born in Brooklyn, bred by Berklee (that's the renowned College Of Music, near Boston) and was given his first major break by saxophonist Archie Shepp. The keyboardist released his debut album in 1977, and since then he's been working in every possible setting, including duos, trios, quartets and with the penning of ambitious works for big band blow-outs.
Werner has selected an eminent membership for this new band, making his first bold statement on the Blue Note label. Kenny's horn men often take control, making a more extrovert mark than their leader. Trumpeter Dave Douglas and tenor saxophonist Chris Potter spread their textures further by adding cornet and bass clarinet, both of them alarmingly heated soloists. The ubiquitous Scott Colley and Brian Blade provide wiry and pneumatic bass and drums in turn.
Many of these pieces would sound at home on the soundtrack of a Six Feet Under episode, adopting an airily rural traipse as their tight little themes develop. They're sculpted like topiary, helped along by Tower Of Power's Lenny Pickett, who's a suitably surprising choice of producer. Werner's pieces are itchy and twitchy, bordered with processed electroacoustic whorls. He's mixing piano, organ and disembodied synth squiggles, often in the same composition.
"New Amsterdam", "The 13th Day" or "Lawn Chairs" could be taken for almost conventional jazz soloing vehicles, the latter even ending up with a trace of "In A Silent Way". On these numbers, Douglas and Potter repeatedly deliver higher and higher climaxes, whilst "burble_burble_speak" and "west_coast_variant" are deliberately abstract (as telegraphed by their typography!). On the latter, Potter squeaks and squawks violently, but he's always grounded by a thick bassline purr. "Uncovered Heart" could be the gentle theme to a prairie soap opera, then "Inaugural Balls" cuts in with jagged criss-crosses, making an agitated funk hop, topped by a raw Douglas horn outburst. "Loss" spreads dark, orchestral atmospheres, with Werner's layerings embellished by Blade's cymbal splashes. Kenny's mat of overgrowth can also be cut back for a minimalist ponder, when so desired.
This one's quite unlike any other jazz album. Werner has shaped a peculiar set of tunes that merge acoustic and electronic palettes, combine mainstream and experimental approaches and that are imbued with an oddly mischievous sense of humour, simultaneously possessing serious intent. And he also reveals that there's a mild political polemic at play, too, even if only on an abstract level. Phew!