As if more proof was necessary Out & About confirms guitarist Will Bernard is as skilled a bandleader as he is an instrumentalist. And both roles require an artful approach as this album makes clear: it’s one thing to find talented musicians-as Bernard most certainly does here-it’s quite another to elicit that talent in such a way it complements the talent (and personality) of each of the other musicians involved.
In this context then Out & About is a most ambitious undertaking because Bernard enlists the assistance of three other formidable musicians: drummer Allison Miller, bassist Ben Allison and saxophonist John Ellis, all with their own careers and ensembles of some note and history (and based on that reality alone, some measurable and presumably healthy ego). But the San Francisco Bay Area guitarist also demonstrates the wisdom to preserve his relationship with long-time trio partner, organist Brian Charette, who acts as a combination catalyst and bonding agent unifying this quintet for the sake of the recording.
The five-some lightheartedly dance through “Happy Belated,” illustrating the easy going interactions of which they’re capable, then spend a little less than two minutes illustrating the grace and delicacy they can create on “Not too Fancy.” And, as “Next Guest” attests, it hardly matters who’s soloing here at any give time because, even as Bernard fingers his fret board with such precision here, Allison is almost equally so on bass, never colliding with the guitarist, but acting as a counterpoint as if to highlight the leader’s skill.
The album’s longest track at 6:45, “Habanera” features Charette drawing out the melody line in an altogether luxurious pace, but that doesn’t obscure the motion of Miller at her kit: her playing is so natural, it’s vivid enough to visualize. Meanwhile, Bernard leads by example, he using sufficiently varied tones and attacks to keep himself and all involved alert in a state of positive flux. Accordingly, Ellis twists and turns playing his horn on “Redwood (Business Casual)” where everyone is quick on the uptake of each other’s ideas. The leader unwinds more fluid lines on “Pan Seared,” and the keyboardist instinctively follows suit.
All of which such interplay is especially admirable given the economy of arrangement and production (by Marc Free from one day of recording in Brooklyn) within cuts in the three-to-five minute duration range. But then what better way to illustrate the versatility of a band than for it to move quick through the various changes Bernard presents in this all-original material. His understated vigor in this musicianship on the title song and “Homebody” insinuates the sounds within the listener’ Out & About will not recede into mere background music.
Doug Collette – All About Jazz