Sounds Like

Dan Willis

“Very early in my musical career, I realized that to be an interpreter of an established art form was meaningless for me,” stated pianist Kenny Werner about his change in career directions from classical concert pianist to prodigious jazz improviser.
Perhaps this sort of attitude can account for the bucketsful of innovation on “Lawn Chair Society,” released Mar. 6, 2007 on the Blue Note label.
His sidemen are pretty much the best out there right now; trumpeter Dave Douglas, tenor man Chris Potter, drummer Brian Blade, and bassist Scott Colley are all corralled and focused together by the production talents of Lenny Pickett.
This group of fierce talents combines forces to really push forward emotionally and idiomatically. A substantial part of the emotional impetus of this album derives from the narrative of Werner’s journey of grief.
In 2006, his 16-year-old daughter was killed in a car crash. The album is absolutely drenched with the contents of his unimaginable tragedy.
The concisely poignant ballad “Uncovered Heart,” written on the day of his daughter’s birth, falls in the middle of the album.
It arrives as a baptismal gasp of purifying air after the challenging “burble_burble_splerk,” a blippy duet between Douglas’ squealing, horse-whinnying trumpet and a short-circuiting electronic palette of digital chimes and friction noises.
The ballad is gorgeous. It has that blooming, teary-eyed, pure joy that (I imagine) can only come with the birth of a child. Werner is effortlessly melodic, and totally soul-bearing – a beautiful piece.
Potter then takes a crack at an electronic duet “west_coast_variant.” Stripping down his tone, he leans away from a linear approach, and enters into electronic textures characteristic of what the inside of a digital watch might sound like.
The track concludes with a telling bit of musical humor: Potter and Douglas play 10 seconds of old-timey-sounding straight ahead easy swing.
It draws a contrast between the antiquated jazz idiom from which they are departing and the new direction in which they are headed.
Perhaps the inclusion of electronics signal an awareness of the enslavement of melody to the parameters laid down by the physical limitations of acoustic instruments.
A huge part of acoustic music making is controlled by the raw fact that we have 10 fingers and there are 88 piano keys. There is only so much that is physically possible.
But electronics have no such limitation. Electronic music making is limited only by the parameters of the programmer’s imagination.
In their shots at electronic duets, both Potter and Douglas try to enter into a dialogue with the electronics within the vocabulary of the electronics; that is, not necessarily constrained by musical traditions stemming from physical limitation paradigms.
The album concludes with the two-track mini-suite of “Loss” and “Kothbiro.” These tracks are not so much a reflection on grief or a meditation as they are an attempt to directly transcribe the internal motion of the soul during the intense icy grip of devastating grief.
Werner nails it. It’s a masterpiece.