When Wendel Werner first contacted me about reviewing his CD, Loss
, he mused that he had only just discovered the Solo Piano Publications website: “Where have I been?” I asked myself the same question after listening to Werner’s incredible CD. A musician proficient in many genres of music, it appears that Wendel Werner’s previous releases have been collaborations with other artists. Loss
is solo jazz piano and is so full of life that it’s positively infectious. Werner is a teacher at the college level, a musical director, choir conductor, among other things, and influences from all of these various avenues can be heard in his music. Some of the pieces are quiet and reflective, some are toe-tappers, some are blues and gospel, creating a kind of sampler of Werner’s approaches to solo piano. A classically-trained pianist from an early age, Werner started his college career as a classical piano major and shifted his focus to jazz piano after his sophomore year. He went on to earn a Master’s Degree in “Choral Conducting with an emphasis in Musicology.” This is obviously a musician who can do it all. Werner incorporates improvisation into his compositions, keeping them fresh and spontaneous.
opens with “Project Change,” a piece composed for an anti-racism organization with the same name. Strong, bold, and determined, this is one of the more dynamic pieces on the album. “Stomp of the Bat Cave” is one of my favorites. Slow, dark, and bluesy with a killer rhythm, this piece just drips with soul! Stomps evolved out of the later ragtime styles in the early 20th century, and this one refers to Werner’s apartment because no one knows where it is. “Carry Your Heart” is more of a ballad style inspired by a poem by e.e. cummings. Warmly sentimental with just enough of a bittersweet twist, we see a different side of Werner’s musicianship here. And then comes “The Tango Joanna,” a dramatic and sultry dance. The title track sounds like the theme to a film noir, complete with an effect that makes it sound like a slightly scratchy phonograph record (remember those?). The second half of the CD reflects the artist’s feelings of people or things that have passed away. As a prelude, Werner gives us a powerful rendition of “Sweet Low, Sweet Chariot.” Richly improvised, this arrangement goes seamlessly through a variety of playing styles. “For The Boys Who Ain’t Here” comes from a phrase in African-American culture used when a drink is poured on the floor in memory of those who “ain’t here” before everyone else has a drink. This piece is also part of a requiem Werner composed several years ago. Dark and deeply-felt, the piece has a strong gospel influence. “Can’t Find One” refers to not being able to find a title Werner liked. The piece is joyful and upbeat - just try to keep your feet still while enjoying this one! I love it! From boundless exuberance, we move on to a slow, stirring piece called “Savannah” - beautiful! “Sara Jordan” is named for a blues singer Werner often worked with before her death. This piece is especially interesting because there is no melody. Werner says he had to leave something for Ms. Jordan to do - what a great tribute! “God Bless You” is a gentle closing to a great album.
If Wendel Werner’s music is new to you and you enjoy jazz piano, give yourself a real treat and check out Loss
! It is available from wendelwerner.com