When I think of the the overlap of jazz and funk, ensembles that come to mind are Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, On The Corner-era Miles, and even some of the smoother offerings out of the CTI label. In more recent times, Medeski Martin and Wood have really been laying it down.
If I was to reorganize my record collection by genre, Kenny Werner’s Lawn Chair Society would proudly sit beside the other titles on the jazz/funk shelf. The lineup a stellar one — Werner’s piano is joined by Scott Colley on bass, Chris Potter (tenor/bass clarinet), Dave Douglas (trumpet), and Brian Blade at the kit. Taking it over the top is Lenny Picket (Tower Of Power, speakin’ of a jazz-and-funk collision!) playing the producer role.
What we have here is something more than funked-up jazz. For every ‘regular’ track (and honestly, the opening “Lo’s Garden” can’t be fairly be called ‘normal’, not with those cool and tangled unison lines ridden by Douglas and Potter), there are things like “Berble Berble Splerk,” with Douglas carrying on a conversation with a synthesizer gone mad. “New Amsterdam” has the leader laying down some funk riffs over which the rest of the band burns. Potter holds his own against blurpy synth noise on “West Coast Variant,” aided by Colley’s extremely elastic and woody bass.
While “Lawn Chairs (And Other Foreign Policy)” is a well-constructed sound suite, one with ample room for letting this powerful band express its ideas, I always come back to “Inaugural Balls.” Not only is the song a perfect example of what this group is all about, it has Brian Blade flinging down some of the funkiest, most syncopated drum work he’s ever done. If all of your body parts remain stationary, seek medical attention.
Lawn Chair Society presents us with some serious music. Serious fun, that is. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go and figure out how to reorganize my records while dealing with involuntary body movements.