As a composer, pianist Kenny Werner's reach is vast: it encompasses not only the jazz heritage, but also the classical and folk traditions, Western and Eastern. Balloons is compiled from two nights of quintet performances at the Blue Note in April of 2010 with trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonist David Sanchez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Antonio Sanchez. These four long pieces reveal new traits in Werner's compositional thinking and present complex, harmonic notions accessibly. Simultaneously, this group makes the most of improvisational opportunities presented by their combined dynamic and tonal possibilities. "Sada" opens with a lilting, graceful melody, articulated by long, languid tones from Brecker and David Sanchez. Werner plays a series of comped notes as a constant, restrained drone is underscored by bass and drums. Even in his fine solo, he stays within a limited palette, both highlighting the melody and creating sense of space and color that is further enhanced by David Sanchez's solo later on. "Siene" showcases the entire frontline on a bossa-tinged groove. Brecker is illustrative and bright; David Sanchez more forceful and edgy; Werner holds them together assertively as he comps, then, inspired by their playing, finds a stellar bop improvisation in his solo. The title track is a seeming child's lullaby in the singsongy melody that is articulated in a long, hypnotic piano solo intro atop a pulsing, hypnotic, two-chord pattern. When the band enters, they add air and light, opening the tune up without sacrificing its childlike notion of song. The melody expands as Brecker and David Sanchez play rounded warm expressions of it before their solos come into play. The album's final track, "Class Dismissed," is ebullient from the start with Antonio Sanchez's drums playing in an aggressive stop-start time as piano, trumpet, and saxophone dig deeply into a very knotty, hard-swinging lyric. Patitucci's fluidity and force bridge the players, even when the horns enter into contrapuntal discussions. Werner's piano frames that energy and makes it sing. The drum solo is an exercise in Afro-Cuban, post-bop lyricism in and of itself. Balloons is, at its heart, yet another expression of Werner's compositional, instrumental, and leadership gifts; but it is also a document of a group communicating so intuitively, that it sounds like they've been together for decades.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek