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.
Barnard’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.