Bernie Worrell’s Improvisczario went well beyond the expected funk

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The term “Bernie Worrell” would show up as a synonym if you looked up the word “funk” in the thesaurus.

As one of the principal supporting architects of George Clinton’s groundbreaking P-Funk sound, we couldn’t help but to salute Worrell before, but with Improvisczario, he provided a refreshing glimpse of other sides of him. After all, this classically-trained pianist has been a sideman for a wide variety of artists ranging from Robben Ford to Pharoah Sanders.

Nonetheless, it’s no shocker that Improvisczario, released on September 11, 2007, was bubbling over with grooves. What’s surprising is that it did so in such organic, varying ways, and not all of it was funky. Perhaps recording live in the studio and making up the tunes on the spot had a lot to do with that (and thus, the album’s title). To hear Worrell just jam and not be concerned at all with smoothing out the edges was a real treat.

The first cut “New Boss” found Bernie Worrell sounding more like Ahmad Jamal than himself, laying his sparse grand piano lines on top of relentless open snare from Living Colour’s Will Calhoun. “Up in the Hills” added Bill Bass’ bass to the line-up, as well as the banjo of Mike Gordon of Phish fame. Toward the end, Worrell could be found quoting Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar,” which is probably what most listeners were asking themselves with this song.

Bass got more overtly funky on “Bass on the Line,” while Bernie Worrell switched over to electric piano. Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes joined in with a nasty wah-wah guitar on “Dirty” and monster “Killer Mosquito.” The last cut “Celeste” featured Bernie Worrell on that very un-funky instrument of the same name, but still managed to groove alongside Bass with it.

The unstructured setting of Improvisczario made this pretty unpolished, and at times the jams threatened to go nowhere, but the searching nature of these songs found gold more often than they didn’t. It’s Bernie Worrell at his most relaxed and unfiltered.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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