The Posi-tone label is turning out to be one of the best sources for old school Hammond sessions these days – and this sweet set from guitarist Will Bernard is great proof of that fact! Bernard plays with a tight sense of line and color that really takes us back to some of our favorites from the 60s – like Grant Green or Kenny Burrell – and he’s set up here alongside some excellent Hammond from Brian Charette, who has a great ear for mixing up playful phrasing and a more powerful groove – a bit like Jack McDuff on late 60s Prestige, but very much his own bag too! The group’s also got tenor and bass clarinet from John Ellis, and drums from Rudy Royston – and titles include a cover of “Dancing Days”, plus “Dime Store Thriller”, “Go West”, “Sweet Spot”, “PM Gone”, and “Route 46”.
Guitarist Will Bernard has been connected to a number of singular groups and individuals, from the Monk-to-funk outfit known asT.J. Kirk to New Orleans drumming giant Stanton Moore to multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum’s boundary-pushing Hieroglyphics Ensemble, but a common denominator exists in his strongest work with each one: Bernard’s best is always rooted in the groove. He has an no-fuss way of establishing and/or inhabiting the rhythmic currents of a song and he puts that skill to good use, once again, onJust Like Downtown.
This quartet date finds Bernard fronting a highly capable—and flexible—foursome. Together, they tackle original soul jazz (“Dime Store Thriller”), Led Zeppelin (“Dancing Days”) and Richard Rodgers (“Bali Hai”). Some pieces are brisk and driving (“Sweet Spot”) and others like to linger for a while (“Little Hand”), as Bernard and company simply let the music float on by. Most of these musical offerings get to the point right away, but a sense of mystery is occasionally in the air as things coalesce (“Bali Hai”) or blow slowly in the Frisell-ian breeze (“P.M. Gone”).
Bernard’s buddies deserve a good deal of credit for bringing his music to life. They sound good when working from the same playbook as the leader (“Dime Store Thriller”), but they sound greatwhen one person’s contributions are thrown into sharp relief; John Ellis’ swaggering bass clarinet riff, for example, enlivens the jaunty “Go West,” and drummer Rudy Royston delivers a tornado of a performance on the choppy “Safety In Numbers,” which also features a beast-of-a-solo from Bernard. Organist Brian Charette—the fourth piece of the puzzle—is the one most responsible for adding color to the project. He brings all manner of sound—both earthy and alien—into the picture.
Just Like Downtown possesses an immediately likeable, unforced quality. The music simply flows when Will Bernard and company get going.
Track Listing: 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 saxophone, bass clarinet; Brian Charette: organ; Rudy Royston: drums.
Coming over to the Posi-Tone label for his latest creation was bound to mean that the restless funk-jazz guitarist Will Bernard was going to make a different kind of record…again. Bernard’s B3 organ fixation continues but not a whole lot else carries over from last year’s funky Outdoor Living. Instead of Wil Blades on Hammond, we get Brian Charette. Simon Lott is swapped out for Rudy Royston. And Bernard gains a front line foil by adding saxophonist John Ellis. But in spite of this talent-loaded roster, the big deal about the impending Just Like Downtown is that Bernard doesn’t so much want to groove like before. He wants to swing.
Even the CD cover of a nattily-attired Bernard topped off with a pork pie hat shouts “swing.”
Unlike a lot of his records, the Grammy-nominated fret master isn’t really trying something new; Just Like Downtown is a back-to-my-jazz-roots affair. Given that, he’s dead serious in approaching it with not only reverence but also with his own personality. Which means it grooves, anyway, like “Dime Store Thriller,” that finds Bernard and Ellis playing smoky lines in unison while Charette easily slips between comping and leading. Bernard’s single note lines are all about the riding the groove, but he also likes to rub a little bit of dirt on it.
Bernard wrote “Dime” and all but two of the other eight tunes in this batch of recordings, and though much of it is blues-based, the songwriting avoids the predictable twelve-bar fare. “Sweet Spot” swings hard, with Royston’s drums just about jumping out of the speakers. Ellis’ sax delivery is red hot and smooth at the same time. “Safety In Numbers” is a hot tune, too, that Bernard stuffed with dense bop articulations. On this song, as well as on the sizzler “Route 46,” Barnard’s linear attack visits Pat Martino territory.
Ellis pulls out the bass clarinet for a few numbers, an instrument rarely used in organ jazz but he makes it sound like a natural fit. “Little Hand” is a hushed number where that lower octave clarinet’s tone works great in this setting, especially in the way Ellis applies the right sentiment to it. It’s also featured in “Bali Hai” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, and the burly tone is nearly that of a baritone sax. Meanwhile, Bernard can be heard playing his trademark swampy, slide-like note bending.
The other cover might appear to be a left-field choice, too: “Dancing Days,” from Led Zeppelin’s Houses Of The Holy tune. The Bonham beat is retained as well as the melody, but something about Charette’s B3 and Bernard’s soft-toned guitar than nonetheless manages to transform the song into a greasy blues-jazz number. Bernard has played a Zeppelin cover or two in Stanton Moore’s band, so he already knew his way around the band’s repertoire in the jazz sense pretty darned well.
Bernard’s jazz sense gets in a good workout all over Just Like Downtown. With a supporting cast of Ellis, Charette and Royston, he found yet another way to stoke fans of guitar/B3 jazz.
Guitarist Will Bernard presents a fine album of soulful modern jazz in the company of John Ellis on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Rudy Royston on drums and Brian Charette on organ. “Sweet Spot” has an upbeat tempo with nice saxophone and snappy drumming. Ellis’ sound is tightly wound and a bit gritty, perfect for this setting. Solos for organ and guitar are featured before everyone comes together to end the tune in a hard driving motion. A repetitive groove builds tension on “Dancing Days” and this organ focused song is a great feature for Charette. Bernard’s guitar sneaks in, building a funk rhythm and stepping out for a fine solo. After a complicated and choppy opening, “Little Hand” has Ellis stretching out over organ and drums with a focused solo while the organ keeps pushing the pace. Bernard then steps forward, with an appealing Grant Green like tone taking center stage. After a bubbling organ feature, Ellis leads the tune to close with a strong statement of his own. “Route 46” develops a groove from the bass pedals of the organ and the saxophone builds things up to the point where Bernard can assert himself with some intuitive and nimble guitar playing. The whole band becomes one and drives this tune home with strong and powerful swing. Jazz fans who revere the guitar and organ records that were a staple of the Blue Note and Prestige catalogs of the 1950’s and 1960’s will find a lot to enjoy here, the subtle propulsive groove of this music is well played and accessible.
WILL BERNARD/Just Like Downtown: This tasty guitarist takes plenty of the spotlight for himself but he leaves enough room for Brian Charette to pump that greasy organ sound so much so that you can be excused for thinking this is B3 date if you hear it without knowing what it is. Swinging throughout, this four piece combo delivers the real deal and never let’s things ever sink below smoking. Hot stuff for real jazzbo although they might just let hipsters in for a taste. A winner.
NICK HEMPTON/Odd Man Out: Hempton’s playing here reminds me of a time Gerry Mulligan was teaching a master class at a university. There was a look of grudging admiration on his face when one of the student players just knew how to turn it up and turn it loose. I see that look again listening to this date. Hempton is a real cooker that can play the notes, play around the notes, play around with the notes and spread such good vibes in the process. A real swinger throughout, this is simply a killer date that expands the lexicon of modern jazz and makes it sound so cool in the process. Don’t miss it.