Will Bernard – Out & About (2016)

An accomplished guitarist who’s made a string of highly regarded funky fusion records makes a successful return to the more straight-ahead stuff that’s informed by his wider palette. That’s a story line one could apply to John Scofield in the 90s, but also to Will Bernard in the 2010s.

Out & About, out on March 11, 2106, is Bernard’s second album through the quality mainstream jazz label Posi-Tone, continuing Bernard’s incursion into the ‘purer’ stuff. Shuffling the line-up once again, Bernard turns to Allison Miller this time to handle the timekeeping and adds a bassist, a rather good one, in Ben Allison. Continuing from his first Posi-Tone Just Like Downtown are John Ellis (sax) and Brian Charette, but the two are used interchangeably this time, creating greater versatility from track to track.

It’s a sax quartet for the Sco-like advanced bop of “Next Guest” or the modern funk with old school sensibility found on “Happy Belated,” while Charette replaces Ellis for the calypso modulation of “Habenera,” and both can be found on the potent, densely packed rhythms on “Full Sweep,” where Charette comes out with a nervy solo followed by Ellis’ chunks of soul notes. “Pan Seared” is just the base trio, and on here and the ending “Out And About,” Bernard leaves behind soft sinuous guitar lines that both shape meandering melodies and give them purpose and the right measure of emotion.

There are scant few drummers out there who wouldn’t be a step down from Rudy Royston (Barnard’s drummer for Downtown), and Allison Miller is one of them. Upon hearing he crisp and on-target drum solo that ends “Redwood (Business Casual),” it’s tempting to think she’s even a step up. She handles all the various grooves with relaxed ease, like the funky one she constructs with Allison for “Homeward Bound,” following the arc of Bernard’s guitar and the swells of Charette’s organ with flawless rapport. Allison also gets what Bernard is trying to carry out, engaging in thoughtful musical conversation with the leader on “Homebody” and performing solos that creatively follows the groove, such as the one articulated on “Suggested Reading.”

Out & About is an incremental step for Will Bernard, but with eleven sturdy originals and an all-star band in tow, there’s no way this album was going to disappoint.

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