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May 2007

Kenny Werner
Lawn Chair Society
Blue Note Records

Thirty years and 20 albums after issuing his first record as a leader, pianist Kenny Werner has made it to the Blue Note label. He arrives with a major statement that is both political and personal.

Lawn Chair Society feels like two albums woven in and around each other. Some of it is cultural commentary; some of it is the fruits of Werner’s own grief after losing his 16-year-old daughter, Katheryn, in a car accident. All of it is a mature modern jazz that seamlessly marries acoustic and electronic aesthetics.

We get something unique right off the bat with “Lo’s Garden,” an electro-acoustic stew that uses synthesizer and computers to create a chill rhythm on top of which drummer Brian Blade layers his snaps and crackles. “New Amsterdam,” employing funk and swing rhythms, is one of the more fun tunes you’re ever going to hear. Blade gets a metallic sound out of his drums by placing something—hubcaps? pot lids?—on his drums and striking them with the sticks, while Werner, trumpeter Dave Douglas, saxophonist Chris Potter and bassist Scott Colley serve up some serious funk-based improv. The 10-minute title track begins with Douglas’ trumpet growling over a synthesizer-created rhythmic foundation that gives way to a gentle swing and eventually merges its theme them with, of all things, Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way.”

Those are the fun parts. The mood changes when Katheryn is concerned. “The 13th Day” conveys emotions alternately sad and joyous with a tide that rises and subsides and turns once more, as Werner’s careful, introspective piano leads us down the path. His lullaby “Uncovered Heart,” written when his daughter was born, becomes heartbreaking in this context. After the concise, ambient keys-drums duet “Loss,” the band finishes with “Kothbiro,” the African-inspired closing-credits theme from the film The Constant Gardener; it’s a simple, pretty melody repeated over and over that gives Douglas, Potter and Werner room to probe its depths, and it sends us off with a bit of uplift.

Originally published in May 2007
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