Kenny Werner: Lawn Chair Society (2007)

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Kenny Werner: Lawn Chair Society
It would be an exercise in futility to attempt to classify this music. When standard tunes from the American Songbook and jazz idioms such as swing and bebop spark little to no recognition among the general public, music that could once be called "experimental" or "avant-garde" necessarily defines the modern mainstream. If there are similarities with early landmark recordings like Out to Lunch (Blue Note, 1964) or Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970), Lawn Chair Society would definitely qualify as the less raw and extemporaneous, more polished and civil descendant of its once-controversial forebears.

I frequently try to hear current recordings "through my students who, though often indifferent to Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) and Bill Evans' Vanguard sessions, have responded with fascination to this disc. Three qualities in particular stand out: composition is emphasized above improvisation; creativity and craftsmanship count for more than interpretation and invention (both of which require a standard repertoire); tonal colors, dynamics and humor receive the kind of attention they enjoyed with Duke Ellington, before the "bebop revolution."

Lest any listeners require the "jazz" label to enjoy this music, Kenny Werner has called on the A Team for this multifarious collection of tone poems and programmatic pieces. The trumpet of Dave Douglas and bass clarinet of Chris Potter descend on "Lo's Garden" like a busy, darting pair of humming birds (joined at the hip, naturally). Soon a more vegetative pace is established by Scott Colley's firmly grounded bass while Brian Blade's percussion alternates between following movement at the sub-particle and quantum-field levels. Meanwhile, Werner's keyboards paint patterns in waves of sound, moving from prepared piano to phased Fender wahs, with a dab of string synth for highlighting.

Switching from a bucolic to urban setting, "New Amsterdam" opens with wordless speech, then offers each horn player opportunities to go sightseeing or slumming, Douglas choosing a more conservative walking 4/4 path and Potter conjuring a meaner disposition while navigating funky terrain. The leader's turn comes on "The 13th Day, which features piano soloing over a very basic 6/8 repeated pattern before yielding to some building drama by Douglas on open horn, who ranges from fine and mellow to turbulent and assertive. Potter follows suit, starting from scratch then rapidly rising in sound and fury before backing down just as nimbly.

"Burble_burble_spleek is positively onomatopoeic—wind chimes, telephone rings and Douglas playing some of the most vocalized (and intestinal) trumpet sounds this side of Clark Terry and Rex Stewart. "Uncovered Heart," a calming guitar-like ballad in E Major, is soon followed by the ambitious title number— a collage of funked-up chatter, vocalized demagoguery by each horn player, some thoughtful discourse by Werner on piano, a ghostly dirge-like refrain intoned by unison horns, and finally the faint sounds of birds and hunters(?). Closure comes not with a bang but with "Loss, essentially a richly-textured chorale by synthesized strings, followed by "Kothbiro, an extended peaceful incantation.

Even in writing about this music—which is easier to describe than a solo by Charlie Parker or Art Tatum—its potential to connect with new listeners becomes apparent. Not a bad sign, especially with musicians of this caliber.

Track Listing: Lo's Garden; New Amsterdam; The 13th Day; Burble_burble_splerk; Uncovered Heart; Inaugural Balls; West_coast_variant; Lawn Chairs (and Other Foreign Policy); Loss; Kothbiro.

Personnel: Kenny Werner: piano, keyboards, computer; Dave Douglas: trumpet, cornet; Chris Potter: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Scott Colley: bass; Brian Blade: drums; Lenny Picket: wooden flute (8).

Record Label: Blue Note Records

Style: Modern Jazz

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