Kenny Werner

No Beginning No End

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Throughout history, great tragedy has often been the source for great art. This is certainly true of Kenny Werner's No Beginning No End, a work that began as a commission for the MIT Wind Ensemble, but changed in scope and nature after October 7, 2007, when his daughter was killed in a car accident. During his period of grief, the deadline began to approach for delivering the commission, but he paid no attention. Werner, ever conscious of his spiritual practice, was inspired to write a poem that became the lyric for this five-movement work, and enabled him to not only conceive the entire piece but finish it in time for its debut -- which he admits in his heartfelt liner essay was ragged. The score was radically revised in 2009 and included sections for brass, strings, and percussion. It was recorded by a 37-piece ensemble and his piano. Vocalist Judi Silvano and saxophonist Joe Lovano overdubbed their parts onto the finished work. The poem that serves the root of this piece is gorgeously delivered, one note per word by Silvano. That note becomes the root on which the ensemble plays Werner's composition, and for Lovano's and Werner's improvisations. Elements of classical music -- Western and Indian -- dialogue seamlessly with jazz and structured improvisation for nearly 50 minutes, creating a work of transcendent spiritual beauty. It ends not with a conclusion, but an introduction to something beyond the confines of the work itself. In addition to "No Beginning No End" (comprised of five separate titles), there are three other pieces that were written in relation: "Visitation: Waves of Unborn" is a wordless a cappella for a 36-member choir that deals harmonically with the idea of music not as a noun but as a presence created by the souls dwelling between death and rebirth in the bardo. "Cry Out" was written as a simple, direct, and deeply emotive piece for a string quartet. Less than seven minutes in length, it is nonetheless one of the most memorable works Werner has ever composed; its entwining lyric lines will haunt the listener long after it ends. "Coda" closes the disc; a spacious yet flowing six-and-a-half minute improvisation for piano, marimba, vibraphone, and harp, based in the E Mixolydian scale. Taken as a whole, No Beginning No End is a work for which there is no comparison, and few referents. Born of grief, it reflects only beauty, poetic and profound; it is Werner's master work. [Editor's Note: Werner was awarded the 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship Award for Music Composition.]

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