Kenny Werner: Beyond the Forest of Mirkwood

20 Nov

Kenny Werner

Kenny Werner’s Beyond the Forest of Mirkwood: he was Ken then

Allmusic.com called Ken Werner’s Beyond the Forest of Mirkwood “one of the best-kept secrets in his extensive discography.” Now I’m beginning to wonder if it’s one of mine — from me.

The album is a solo piano release from Inner City in 1981; I’m not sure how long I’ve owned it but it’s long enough to have forgotten it was there. Whenever I bought it, it was cheap, because the price tag is $1.99 from the late, great Plastic Fantastic record store in Philadelphia (Ardmore, Pa., to be exact), which stocked a good part of my collection.

I found the album Monday — Werner’s 61st birthday ironically enough — where it’s been hidden all these years in the oddest place: in perfect alphabetical order, squeezed between the many Eberhard Weber albums and the even more Randy Westons.

Sometimes new music is in the place you least expect — where you put it years ago after having never listened to it, or played it just once, while distracted, missing the treasure of it and assigning it, unjustly, to record collection purgatory. It certainly wasn’t because it was inexpensive because there are few greater pleasures than paying little for a piece of music you enjoy a lot. Thankfully, time occasionally appeals such injustices.

(The W’s are among the hardest for me to get to in my collection, because they’re on the bottom and require bending, which requires motivation. But the door to the W’s has been open all month because I had reverted to college-era habits and played The Who’s Quadrophenia non-stop in anticipation of their local concert appearance earlier this month. Monday I made my way down the W’s from Mal Waldron to Weber to Werner).

“On this beautifully recorded album of solo piano, his seven originals show a lot of depth. . .,” read the allmusic.com review. “. . . this should be considered one of Kenny Werner’s essential recordings.”

There are many more, of course, which is the next benefit of this re-discovery. Werner has much work as a leader and much as a collaborator with Joe Lovano and others; in the last part of his career, he played in a trio with drummer Arie Hoenig and bassist Johannes Weidenmuller, from where the link to the performance of The Little Blue Man from a 2004 live New York performance below is drawn.

He also goes by Kenny now instead of Ken, and has for most of his career. I’m wondering if it makes Beyond the Forest of Mirkwood more valuable since Ken Werner albums are so much rarer than Kenny’s.

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