Cadence Magazine - July 2014

JANIS MANN/ KENNY WERNER
CELESTIAL ANOMALY
PPR00701
STILL WE DREAM/ COME DOWN IN TIME/ WILD IS THE WIND/ THROW IT AWAY/ YOU MUST BELIEVE IN SPRING/ EARLY AUTUMN/ WITH A SONG IN MY HEART/ FRAGILE/ SO IN LOVE/ ONCE I LOVED/ IF I LOVED YOU/ I'LL BE SEEING YOU. 57:23
Mann, vcl; Werner, p; Hamilton Price, b; Roy McCurdy or Joe LaBarbera, d. March 13 and 14, 2012, Glendale, CA.

Pianist Kenny Werner shares top billing with vocalist Janis Mann on Celestial Anomaly and that's as it should be. For this recording is nowhere near being a conventional vocal album featuring a singer with accompaniment. Rather, Mann most often figures as the fourth performer in a full-fledged quartet, although she usually stays close to the melody and does not scat. Instead, her warm alto voice imbues each of these choice songs with cool but concentrated emotion in a manner that meshes nicely with the simultaneous work of the trio. That she has excellent control is made especially clear by her facile negotiation of the difficult melodic intervals of "You Must Believe in Spring" while Werner and Price play unconventional lines and harmonies behind her. In fact, it's easy to imagine this as a stand-alone trio recording, as the rhythm section parts consist of anything but predictable accompaniment figures. "Still We Dream," based on Monk's "Ugly Beauty," is unabashed evidence that this is a collaborative effort. Mann sings the melody only one time through at the beginning and once again at the end, while everything in between is trio, with Werner at first nodding to Monk before taking off into his own world. And Abby Lincoln's "Throw It Away" actually starts with a drum solo by Ron McCurdy (he shares the drum chair with Joe LaBarbera). The closest track to an orthodox vocal is Ralph Burns' "Early Autumn," with Hamilton Price's walking bass line. But even it is special in that it appears as an up-tune rather than in its original ballad guise. Here, Mann does paraphrase the melody at one point.
Werner said of the album: "The band played some tunes in what I thought was an innovative and challenging way. Janis is a fantastic singer who stays on course with great strength, style and phrasing." Indeed.

-- David Franklin