KENNY WERNER: No Beginning No End; Visitation – Half Note

by | Nov 13, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

KENNY WERNER: No Beginning No End; Visitation – Half Note Records 4543, 47.2 min. ****:

(Kenny Werner – composer & piano; Joe Lovano – tenor sax; Judi Silvano – voice; Fred Harris Jr. – conducting 35-piece woodwind ensemble & Cry Out string quartet; Sean Statser – vibes; Kae Reed – marimba; Riza Hequibal – harp; chorus)

For its magnum opus of creatively composed and improvised music by Kenny Werner and its similarity to Mahler in the emotional communication of deepest grief over the death of a child, I’ve decided to place this review in our classical section.  In spite of Werner being one of the top jazz pianist/composers today.  The work won the 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship Award, and Werner says it is “The most important music I’ll ever write.”

Werner had been commissioned to write a piece for the MIT Wind Ensemble which would include saxist Joe Lovano and his vocalist wife Judi.  A performance of the new work was scheduled for May 2007 but Werner’s busy schedule hadn’t allowed him to start on it as yet, when one day in October 2006 Werner’s young daughter Katheryn was killed in a car accident.

Of course the effect on Werner and his wife was overpowering. Werner realized they had to “work on our love and light” and he did that by starting to write poetry. He wrote a poem about Katheryn, affirming that death was in fact not the end of life. Then he realized that setting the poem to music for Judi Silvano and the wind ensemble would be a perfect opportunity for the MIT commission. There are five movements to the work: Death Is Not the Answer, Loved Ones, The God of Time, Astral Journey & We Three. The lyrics of the poem are printed in the note booklet, along with many photos of Katheryn growing up. Werner says he felt the project that came into being was a destiny being fulfilled. He discusses in his notes how in improvisation – an important part of his work – individuals surrender their egos and merge into the One. And that is also his philosophy for spirit and life itself.

This very moving work on the disc is encored by a three-movement selection, Visitation. It uses a choir, a string quartet and ends with the only totally instrumental piece of the album – an improvised orchestral piece titled Coda.  More details and videos of this transcendental album are found at:

— John Sunier

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