Me, Myself & I
The majority of compositions on Me, Myself & I are so wired into the typical jazzbo’s memory bank that few of us expect cover versions to deliver much beyond minor variations on familiar changes — a fact that only adds to the pleasures delivered by pianist Kenny Werner’s latest, cut live and solo at Montreal’s Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill in June 2011. Throughout, he exhibits the confidence to cut his own trail rather than taking a well-worn path.
Does the world really need another version of “’Round Midnight”? In this case, absolutely. Rather than treating the theme like a lifeline, Werner uses Monk’s ageless structure as an exploratory jumping-off point. The leisurely paced results are consistently inquisitive and filled with surprises, as heard in late passages that combine saucy vamps and classical allusions in a way that makes perfect sense.
The Hammerstein-Kern favorite “All the Things” and Coltrane’s towering “Giant Steps” are handled in a more succinct manner, but that doesn’t mean Werner skimps on innovation; his fingering on the latter, taken at a daunting tempo, is positively breathtaking. In contrast, his approach to Joni Mitchell’s “I Had a King” is stately, precise, yet imbued with passion that also heats up the Thad Jones-Louis Ouzer favorite “A Child is Born” and his magnificent meditation on Miles Davis’ “Blue is Green,” whose final, drama-filled moments are the equivalent of a pianistic master class. Then there’s “Balloons,” a Werner original previously cut with the likes of David Sánchez, Randy Brecker, John Pattitucci and Antonio Sanchez, but which feels more bracingly unpredictable when he handles every note.
Over time, Werner’s established himself as a great accompanist, but as he proves throughout the album, all he really needs is Me, Myself & I. —Michael Roberts