Will Bernard can play the phone book and his Posi-Tone debut Just Like Downtown proves it!
Brent Black / @CriticalJazz
Will Bernard is far from a newbie but his debut release from Posi-Tone cuts a fresh new musical path for this virtuoso guitarist that gets no where near the ink he deserves. Nine tracks with seven stellar originals and two incredibly eclectic if not surprising covers add for one of the most solid six string outings for the year.
To start, no one covers Led Zeppelin in a guitar 4tet format and if they do then "Dancing Days" is probably not their first pick from their legendary discography. Some artists you don't cover and not because their music is the holy grail or part of what I refer to as the cultural keys to the kingdom but because their music simply does not make the transition to the improvised format found here. "Dancing Days" is turned into an odd metered deceptively funky ditty that stays with you. Bernard is joined by organ phenom Brian Charette who provides the perfect harmonic counterpoint and the tune simmers effortless along. Will Bernard takes the somewhat minimalist approach is his clean angular playing with no notes wasted but a direct lyrical sense of purpose. "Safety In Numbers" is a delightfully syncopated and engaging off metered original featuring veteran reed titan John Ellis, another under appreciated talent if there ever was. Drummer Rudy Royston is one of the best half dozen drummers on the planet and using the tired phrase "in the pocket" would be the classic undersell here. "Bali Hai" from the movie South Pacific is a melodic exploratory with texture and an deceptively haunting modern folk infusion of impressionistic wonder. The bass clarinet work from Ellis serves as somewhat of a virtual second melody line running below the surface at points during this expansive reharm. The tunes is completely reinvented with one of the most skillful arrangements of a cinematic masterpiece that can be found.
This is music with meat on its bones. Not the same tired 4tet format where Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall or perhaps Pat Metheny riffs are banged out by a master technician. Instead we find Will Bernard giving a master class on just what modern jazz guitar is about when approached by an artist whose depth is seemingly only matched by his fearlessness as a lyrical free spirit. Will Bernard compositions will stand the test of time as well as any modern jazz guitarist working today.
An absolute must.
Tracks: Dime Store Thriller; Go West; Sweet Spot; Dancing Days; Little Hand; Safety In Numbers; Bali Hai; Route 46; P.M. Gone.
Personnel: Will Bernard: Guitar; John Ellis: Tenor Sax & Bass Clarinet; Brian Charette: Organ; Rudy Royston: Drums.