Kenny Werner

The Space

Musicians long have pondered the idea of “space.” The meanings they ascribe to this word differ, but in general, they apply to performance—the silences that pianists as diverse as Thelonious Monk and Keith Jarrett employ as part of their statements. But in his playing and teaching, pianist Kenny Werner uses it to refer more to the state of mind used when improvising, rather than to the improvisation itself. This is the key concept in his book Effortless Mastery, and in these tracks as well.

If finding “the space” means infusing what you play with a sense of awareness and presence, it would follow that Werner’s temperament, as well as more traditional measures of artistry, are evident on The Space. It should be no surprise, then, that a reflective state of mind permeates each track. Listeners won’t hear any driving bass lines or flashy displays; presumably these function more as ornaments, if not distractions. Instead, when Werner plays over an ostinato, that figure often fragmented, changing subtly with each iteration before its evaporation.

It’s often best to focus on standard material to develop deeper insight into a player’s aesthetic. And “You Must Believe In Spring” serves this purpose here, as Werner lets the rise and fall of the tune guide his tempo. His left hand alters constantly, moving through chords played solidly or gently rolled single notes, ascending sixths and other devices, over which his exploration of the melody draws fully from the composition’s movements between major and minor.

Throughout The Space Werner conjures a melancholy mood. It is, then, a monochromatic effort—but it’s also extraordinarily unified, even eloquent. In the context of his process, it would be unfair to expect otherwise.

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May 2024
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