Kenny Wessel, guitarist and composer, releases his new CD, Unstrung, on Nonotes Records on September 4, 2020, with digital distribution through Meta-Dash.
His fourth as a leader, Unstrung features his band: Lisa Parrott, on baritone, alto and soprano saxophones; Matt Pavolka on acoustic bass; Russ Meissner on drums; and special guest joining on two tunes, Adam Kolker on tenor saxophone.
To order or download the CD, visit: https://kennywessel.bandcamp.com
Wessel, who played guitar with Ornette Coleman’s revolutionary Prime Time ensemble for over 12 years, brings seven original compositions to the disc, and does his own take on a couple of Ornette’s tunes (from the Prime Time canon), in addition to a beautiful reworking of Over the Rainbow. Kenny, a soulful and versatile guitarist, has also played with Donald Fagen (he is the featured soloist on Morph the Cat), and has worked with Badal Roy, John Abercrombie, Joe Lovano, Debashish Bhattacharya, Adam Rudolph, Dave Liebman, Debbie Harry, Karl Berger and many others from the jazz and world music spectrum.
Encouraged not to “play what you know, but to play what you don’t know” by the visionary Coleman, Wessel recalls that, “Ornette challenged me to be an improviser and to develop my own voice, to ‘play myself.’ ” This deeply personal collection of tunes takes the listener through emotional and musical landscapes … from the swamp funk of Lizard Walk to the gospel streams of In Due Course, to the open expanses of Sliding to the sensitive lushness of Celebi.
Evident throughout the recording is the rapport of the band, listening, turning on a dime, supporting each other. All strong and creative soloists as well, the musicians bring energy, originality and life to the compositions. Wessel’s guitar playing is featured throughout and his sinewy, intricate, and bluesy lines weave in and out of the mix.
Weights & Measures just got 4 stars from Downbeat Magazine! (July 2013)
Here is the review from Bill Milkowski:
“Guitarist and Ornette Coleman protégé Kenny Wessel tackles provocative grooves and left-of-center ideas on his third recording as a leader. Playing a warm-toned electric throughout, Wessel opens with the second line flavored “Swamp Meyna,” which has him repeating an angular, hypnotic line, eventually harmonizing it with a looping pedal, while tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm and Peck Allmond exchange fractured phrases. “Bahut Acha” opens in rubato fashion with Wessel dipping into some slippery, non-tempered phrasing. As the piece develops, it becomes anchored by bassist Brad Jones’ deep-toned contrapuntal groove and fueled by Wollesen’s loose-limbed bashing in 5/8 time. Wessel’s solo here is lyrical and full of intuitive intervallic leaps. Frahm also turns in a heroic tenor solo and Wessel’s fellow Coleman alumnus Jones adds a potent upright solo to the proceedings. The laid back title track, which is loosely based on the Jimi Hendrix version of “Hey Joe,” has Wessel and Frahm in tight lockstep through the head as Wollesen grooves in understated fashion. The two kindred spirits further demonstrate their remarkable chemistry on the radiant guitar-sax duet, “Lullaby #2.”
The quartet kicks up a storm on the surging, swinging “The Speed of the Bass,” a feature for Frahm’s powerful tenor and Wollesen’s ferocious bashing. “Miniature” is a spacious free-jazz interlude for sax, guitar and drums while “Bone Dance” is a bit of dissonant avant-funk that contains some of the most outré moments on the album while also recalling Arthur Blythe’s “Bush Baby.” The collection closes with a spirited run through Coleman’s “City Living,” a great tune from the Prime Time repertoire. Wessel’s take on it is faithful to a point, though more swinging than the furiously kinetic original, with the guitarist comping in syncopated pianistic fashion.”
Welcome to the new website!
I’ll update the news page frequently (or at least that’s my well-intentioned plan). The gigs page will list upcoming gigs and I’ll be posting some lessons on the teaching page from time to time (stay tuned). Many thanks to Christian Konopka for designing the website (you can check out his work or contact him through www.pixelwaltz.com) No animals were harmed in any way in the production of the website.
Some interesting and cool gigs and such – recently and in the coming weeks and months. Just played at the Whitney Museum (4/19) in conjunction with the Blues for Smoke exhibition on Friday. Nir Felder, Rich Robinson and I were involved in a performance piece by William Pope L entitled “Burying the Blues”. We were all dressed in white, wearing blindfolds and playing early blues and rags by Elizabeth Cotton and John Lee Hooker as a starting point for exploration of the blues.The artist proceeded to bury us by raining confetti from above, while the audience took pieces of the paper and wrote letters to dead bluesmen (envelopes and stamps provided). Certainly one of the stranger gigs I’ve been involved in.
I’m excited and honored to be one of the artists at the CMS 40th anniversary Workshop and Retreat up in Woodstock from May 20-24. Karl Berger is one of the founders of the Creative Music Studio, and he has organized a workshop in the spirit of the original workshops with some great guiding artists: Steve Gorn, Oliver Lake, John Medeski, Ingrid Sertso, Marilyn Crispell, Steven Bernstein, Don Byron, Dave Douglas, Tani Tabbal, Ken Filiano, Mark Helias and Thomas Buckner.
This should be a really open, creative, energetic, musical, and stimulating week as there are a lot of very musical spirits involved. Lots of playing, classes, workshops, jam sessions, concerts, deep listening, tai chi, star gazing, and being in the country. Looking forward to this. Registration is still open for students and musicians to attend.
In the middle of a residency at Shapeshifter Lab with Adam Rudolph and the Organic Orchesta. A truly unique and wild ensemble – with lots of very grooving music and musicians. The band has been playing a bunch recently (not an easy feat for a 35-piece group), and its really sounding great. Adam’s music is beautiful, evocative, complex, challenging, always rhythmically deep and speaks its own language. I continue to learn so much from Adam and the other players. We have two more concerts at Shapeshifter in May – catch us!
Going down to Washington, DC to play w/ my quartet at Twins Jazz Club on Friday,
June 7 & and Saturday, June 8th. This is in conjunction with the DC Jazz Festival running from 6/5-6/16). I’ll be playing with Lisa Parrott – alto and bari saxophones, Curtis Ostle – bass and Russ Meissner on drums.
WEIGHTS & MEASURES (WEIGHED AND MEASURED, IN A WAY) – MARCH 21, 2013
Early returns in on Weights & Measures. Here is a review in CriticalJazz.com (one of the best CDs of 2013!)
Also listed as one of the best CDs of 2012 (they got a pre-release copy) in Acoustic Levitation (Craig Nixon, writer, jazz critic)
A review in February 2013 New York Jazz Record (coupled with a review of Thunk, which I’m also on):
• Though still best known for his 12-year tenure with Ornette Coleman as one of the twin engines powering Prime Time, guitarist Kenny Wessel has carved out a niche as a thoughtful player who explores structure and freedom across a range of genres.
Wessel shares equal billing with the three other participants on Thunk!, a collection of eight familiar Thelonious Monk charts, dressed in new clothes by the band. By now there’s nothing remarkable in having a piano-less interpretation of the Monk canon, but they execute it with such a sense of fun that it’s hard to quibble about the need. Leading the frontline alongside the guitarist is the sweet-toned tenor saxophonist Stephen Gauci, coming out of Coltrane but with a beautiful wavering delivery on the ballads that evokes Archie Shepp. On drums Jeremy Carlstedt proves to be a sensitive accompanist, but it is the inventive bass playing of Michael Bisio that elevates this session out of the ordinary.
His repeated patterns drive the uptempo rendition of “Bemsha Swing” while he uses the first two notes of the theme as an underlying motif in a multi-tempo version of “Nutty”, which inspires both Wessel and Gauci to strong statements. Bisio’s arrangement of “Let’s Cool One” reimagines the tune as a sort of lilting bossa nova, with a free section to spice up the solos. Wessel’s finest moment comes on an arrangement of “Off Minor”, which has a hint of the Pink Panther refrain and a ringing bass figure, before moving away from Monk with an angular darting guitar solo. Carlstedt has to wait to the last for his opportunity to shine, between the staccato phrasing of “Well You Needn’t”, which, as with the rest of this likeable disk, rejoices in subtle but involved interplay.
A similar ethos prevails on Weights & Measures, a quartet date recorded back in 2006, showcasing eight Wessel originals and one cover. Catchy and tuneful, most reside in the modern mainstream, notwithstanding the occasional burst of dissonance from tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, particularly when exchanging views with guest reedman Peck Allmond on the opening “Swamp Meyna”. On the title track, loosely inspired by Jimi Hendrix’ “Hey Joe”, the leader gets appropriately rocky, but elsewhere his clean singing lines and sweetly bent notes sometimes take on a country twang. He even recalls Indian tonalities in the out-of-tempo introduction to “Bahut Acha”, inspired by Prime Time percussionist Badal Roy, before settling into a rolling groove. Wessel is at his most lyrical appropriately on a brace of tunes written for his young son: “Lullaby #1” is the subject of a tender duet with tenor saxophone while “Lullaby #2” features some wonderfully gentle exchanges between the foursome. Brad Jones’ slippery bass ostinato on “Bone Dance”, abetted by Kenny Wollesen’s funky syncopation and Wessel’s choppy probing, prompts Frahm to an exciting outpouring replete with odd angles and intervals. However, it is the corkscrewing harmolodic riff of “City Living”, penned by the guitarist’s erstwhile employer, which is most animated and unpredictable, suggesting fertile ground for Wessel in the future.
by John Sharpe
WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM – JANUARY 25, 2013
Played at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland with Chris Washburne and Syotos (Chris Washburne – trombone; Ole Mathesin – saxophone; Kenny Wessel – guitar; Per Mathesin – bass; Vince Cherico – drums) in January. We did a couple of performance/workshops playing, demonstrating and talking about jazz as a paradigm for working organizations (and in general) employing communication, interaction, listening, improvisation, fluid leadership roles, etc. It was very interesting to be there – the participants seemed sincerely interested in what we were presenting. (Also incredible to be in the alps … managed to get some skiing in with the band members during our down time!). Here’s an interview w/ Chris over there
WEIGHTS & MEASURES – JULY 28, 2012
I’m excited that advance copies of Weights & Measures are now available. This is my new CD featuring Joel Frahm on saxophone, Brad Jones on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums we me on guitar and tunage. It will be released in the fall and available at the usual haunts (if those exist anymore), but you can get it by contacting me – send me an email w/ address to firstname.lastname@example.org and $15 and the staff here will get the machinery running to send one off. Also Weights & Measures is available at CD Baby.
ISCMS 2010 – ISTANBUL – JUNE 7, 2010
Going to Istanbul later this summer for 10 days to take part in the ISCMS Festival. This is a festival with a number of Turkish and International Artists performing, teaching and collaborating throughout the city (at Bilgi University in addtion to a number of locations in Istanbul). Some of the folks performing and teaching will be Oliver Lake, John Zorn, Karl Berger, Steve Gorn, Trilok Gurtu, John Linberg, Adam Rudolph, Tani Tabbal, Ingrid Sertso, Kenny Wolleson, Mark Ribot, myself and many others. The event has its roots in the Creative Music Studio (Woodstock) and endeavors to carry on some of the tradition and work begun there by Karl Berger and others. Some cool stuff is planned, thematic concerts based on “Street Vendors”, “Istanbul Traffic” (which is pretty serious) and some other interesting collaborations and meetings. I’m excited about being involved. The festival will be from July 29-August 8. Check http://www.iscms.org/EN/ for more information.
STEPPING OFF THE CORNER – JULY 16, 2009
Some notes about last week’s concert at the River to River Festival downtown at Rockefeller Park in NYC. It was great to play with everyone – overwhelmed when we finally assembled the band (nonet), as it was a diverse, creative, funky and very musical group. The horns (Ingrid, Rudresh and Steve), all coming from different edges of the jazz/world spectrum worked really wonderfully together – contrasting and blending, beautiful, lyrical and burning. The rhythm section laid down some serious stuff. Michael Henderson and Mike Clark have a sense of wisdom and experience in their grooves that let the music breathe, while really being incredibly funky and dynamic. Badal always gives his spirit and soul to his performing and with Daniel on percussion, it was a churning, infectious, thick rhythmic fabric. Klipple, a mad scientist on keys and effects, added some beautiful colors and brought the music to some really interesting places. It was a beautiful nite on the Hudson, the first without rain for the whole series, I’m told.
Playing (and living with) some of the music from “On the Corner” was a very moving experience. There is something about the record that reminds me of Prime Time. Ornette used to talk about all these contrasting things happening simultaneously – in music and in life. Walking down the street hearing a car horn beep, seeing a child playing, a couple arguing, baby crying, dog barking – we’re all taking this in… Playing in Prime Time there would often be different keys, tempos, textures, emotions all happening at the same time. There is something similar to that with On the Corner – layers, contrasting sounds, elements, styles – but all working together to create this cool whole. Don’t think a record like that would or could be made today: with grooves stopping, starting up again, things not lining up and then connecting, beats dropped and picked up later – things are all too slick and polished with protools and other digital sleight of hand. But the raw nature of the record is what I love about it.
Hope we get a chance to do this again as it was a great experience – the music was deepening as we went on.
MJC – JULY 16, 2009
Leaving for Maine in a couple days to teach at the Maine Jazz Camp. Run by Christine Correa (wonderful vocalist) and Paul Lichter (man of letters, poet and resident beat), its a nice haven in the countryside and a great hang. Next week I’ll be teaching w/ some of my favorite players including John O’Gallagher, Frank Carlberg, Matt Pavolka, Curtis Fowlkes, Russ Johnson and Mark Ferber. Its a marathon: ensembles and class all day and concerts at nite, but the students really seem to jump some levels by the end of the week with all that playing, listening and being around the faculty and each other. (If you’re anywhere near Farmington, Maine – there are great faculty concerts each nite during the week and student concerts on Fri/Sat).
RIVER 2 RIVER FESTIVAL – JUNE 25, 2009
I’m reallly excited about a concert coming up at the River to River Festival in NYC on July 8th. Its with a rather large ensemble including some wonderful musicians and great folks: Adam Klipple, Steve Gorn, Ingrid Jensen, Badal Roy, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Michael Henderson, Daniel Moreno, Mike Clark. We’ll be playing some music from or inspired by “On the Corner” (Miles’ beautiful, dense, layered and funky album) and other things that may or may not bear any relation whatsoever.
CIMP FESTIVAL / EUROPE – JUNE 2, 2009
I’m going to Europe to play in a festival in Villach Austria which features musicians from the CIMP record label. The label, run by the charismatic, cantankerous but lovable Bob Rusch is located in upstate NY (near the Canadian border) and also houses a distribution company (North Country), Jazz Magazine (Cadence), stereo component company and another record label. Bob has created a horizontal monopoly for free music out in the middle of nowhere. Should be a lot of fun as there will be about 12 musicians from various CIMP conglomerations over there. (See gig page for listings or link.) Also playing in Hungary, near Budapest as part of the tour with Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi and Stephen Gauci.
ALANKAR AT THE VERMONT JAZZ CENTER – FEBRUARY 12, 2009
Badal Roy (tabla), Jerome Harris (bass), Todd Isler (percussion) and me (guitar) will be traveling this weekend (Saturday, February, 14) to Brattleboro, Vermont for a concert at the Vermont Jazz Center. Eugene Uman, pianist and artistic director, is back running the VJC and it will be great to come back and play up there.
IN THE SPIRIT OF DON CHERRY – KARL BERGER OCTET – JULY 1, 2008
Going to Bari, Italy fto play at a festival on July 4 with Karl Berger’s “In the Spirit of Don Cherry” project. Its a great band w/ Graham Haynes – trumpet, Carlos Ward – saxophones, Bob Stewart – tuba, Ingrid Setso – vocals, KW – guitar, Marc Helias – bass, Billy Elgart – drums and Karl Berger – vibes and piano. We’re playing Don’s evocative, beautiful and compelling music. I’m really looking forward to this.
ALANKAR W/BADAL ROY AND JEROME HARRIS – APRIL 3, 2008
A band I really love to play with, that hasn’t performed in a while. Badal Roy on tabla and percussion, Jerome Harris will be joining us on acoustic bass guitar and myself. We recorded a CD, Daybreak (with Stomu Takeishi on bass) and its always moving to play this music together. The concert is part of a music series in Washington Heights run by Artists Unite. (Its at the KB Gallery at 875 West 181st St. and Riverside Drive. Take A train to 181st St. Walk west 3 blocks west.)
TOUR WITH MOVING PICTURES – FEBRUARY 28, 2008
I’m doing a short tour with Adam Rudolph & Moving Pictures in the Northeast in Feb/March that I’m excited about. Its a great band w/ Graham Haynes – cornet, flugelhorn; Ned Rothenberg – woodwinds, shakuhachi; Steve Gorn – bansuri, woodwinds; KW – guitars/strings; Brahim Fribgane – oud/percussion; Shanir Blumenkranz – bass, sintir; Hamid Drake – drums, percussion; and Adam Rudolph – percussion.
Adam has worked with Don Cherry and Yusef Lateef and his well-heeled travels have informed his playing and compositions. His musical concepts, including ‘cyclic verticalism’ are pretty compelling (check out his book, “Pure Rhythm”) and as a bandleader he provides a great mix of openness and structure for the players. The band’s new CD, “Dream Gardens” will be released around the time of these concerts.
Moving Pictures will be in NYC on Feb. 29 at Roulette and March 26 at Joe’s Pub. Check gigs page for more detailed listings. Also, Adam’s Organic Orchestra will be in residence at Roulette – 3 Mondays in March (3/10, 3/17, 3/31).
DUO WITH JOHN ABERCROMBIE – JANUARY 26, 2008
I’m looking forward to performing with one of my favorite guitarists, John Abercrombie. We’ll be playing duo
on January 26th at the Arts Exchange in White Plains, NY at 7 pm. I’ve always enjoyed playing with other guitarists and this should be a fun evening.
KARL BERGER & FRIENDS – JANUARY 19, 2008
A rare NYC performance of Vibraphonist/Pianist/Composer Karl Berger. In addition to co-founding the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock a number of years ago, Karl’s a great musician and spririt and I’ll be playing with his quintet at the Stone on January 19. The group features, his wife, Ingrid Setso – vocals, Tim McLafferty – drums, Mark Helias – bass, KW – guitar, and Karl – vibes, piano, compositions. We recorded a CD last year (w/ Kermit Driscoll on bass) that Tim and Karl will be releasing soon.