If you don't pay close attention to Kenny Werner, you might mistake him for just another preternaturally proficient melodist--but listen beneath the exquisite surface of his music and a world of subtle, challenging variations reveals itself. Among the brainiest pianists of his generation, the 49-year-old seems to have studied the same models that shaped many of his peers: Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, and Herbie Hancock, as well as their common forefather, Bill Evans. But the way Werner puts these pieces together sets him apart from just about everyone else; he has Corea's crystalline touch, but tends to propel his improvisations into thornier, sometimes darker territory, approximating the force and weight of Jarrett's music and making measured use of atonality. (Werner wears his classical training on his sleeve--he occasionally sounds like Bill Evans tackling Alban Berg.) This unexpected combination--a light, bright touch applied to music of great harmonic and historic depth--has made Werner the first choice of players looking for an engaging and individual foil instead of just a sideman; he's worked recently in a duo with juggernaut saxist Chris Potter, and his former employers and collaborators include such exacting artists as Archie Shepp and, in the late 70s, Charles Mingus. On Werner's most recent release, last year's Beauty Secrets (BMG), he took something of a left turn, playing with a band that sometimes featured voice, violin, or cello. But his great strength, like Evans's, is his command of the infinite possibilities offered by that smallest of bands, the piano trio--in 1998 he released one of the best trio discs of the past decade, A Delicate Balance, starring Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. For these dates Werner will bring his new regular trio, which includes drummer Ari Hoenig and bassist Johannes Weidenmuller. Friday, April 6, 9 PM, and Saturday, April 7, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Fredrich Cantor.