Action Figure Party

With its innocuously vague title, obscure record label and slapdash cover art, Action Figure Party belongs to the “What-the-hell-is-this?” category of new releases. But Greg Kurstin, the gifted keyboardist throwing this shindig, is no stranger: He’s collaborated with everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Matthew Sweet. As a result, this Party has a high-profile guest list, including Sean Lennon on turntables, John Molo of Phil Lesh and Friends on percussion, Yuval Gabay of Soul Coughing on drums and Flea, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist extraordinaire.

From the infectious funk opener “Everybody Ready” to the stripped-down piano-trio texture of “Flow,” Action Figure Party allows Kurstin and his cohorts to step out of character to play much jazzier fare than usual. (The band’s label, Blue Thumb, belongs to the primarily jazz-oriented Verve Music Group.) For the most part, they do a convincing job. Flea showcases his considerable chops on the ’70s-cop-show-theme-style funk number “Gettem,” while Sean Lennon’s wheels-of-steel work on “George & Cindy” adds modern color to the tune’s orange-shag-carpet, avocado-colored-plastic-furniture retro feel. The bulk of improvisational work falls on Kurstin’s shoulders, and he carries the load with astounding subtlety.

While Action Figure Party hints and nods at a variety of musical styles, it rarely commits to one for very long, but the solid performances keep the disc’s eclecticism in check. Each track is fresh and unpredictable, ensuring that this album, like the ideal party guest, never wears out its welcome.

Categories: Music