March 6, 2007

Shortcuts—Kenny Werner's Lawn Chair Society

Kenny Werner’s Lawn Chair Society is a hard album to pin down, other than to say that it’s ambitious and creative. The album is a swirl of styles and moods, moving between trippy planetarium music, tight acoustic playing, and ’70s cop movie–inspired funk. Yet, the idiosyncrasies of the album rarely get in the way of the playing—a good thing considering the star-studded lineup of Werner on piano and keyboards, Chris Potter on tenor saxophone, Dave Douglas on trumpet, Scott Colley on bass, and Brian Blade on drums.

The album begins with “Lo’s Garden,” an appropriately shifty track that starts with a buoyant electronic pulse that yields to Werner’s dark, impressionistic piano. As the track goes on, the electronic pulse returns, playing off the new mood and fostering a chaotic agitation.

This agitation characterizes many of the tracks on Lawn Chair Society. There’s an unsettled quality to the music, oscillating between rhythms and harmonic textures even when it seems to fall into a unified groove. Punctuating these polystylistic tracks are several electronic mood fragments, beginning with the trumpet-computer duet of “burble_burble_splerk” and culminating in the soaring “Loss,” which sounds like the score to an epic film.

While many of the tracks are highly produced, Werner gives his players ample room to improvise. On “New Amsterdam,” both Potter and Douglas dig into the funky groove with exuberance, and on “The 13th Day,” an all acoustic track, Werner, Potter, and Douglas all turn in complex, knotty solos. While the album is engaging throughout, the stylistic wanderings might have proved overwhelming were it not for “Uncovered Heart” and “Kothbiro,” the album’s final track. Both of those songs eschew textural complexity for emotional resonance, sticking to deliberate rhythms and mournful lyricism. Lawn Chair Society is such a restless work that any mooring, even in sadness, gives us an appreciated glimpse into its underlying soul.