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Album Review

Will Bernard: Ancient Grains


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Will Bernard: Ancient Grains
In the culinary world, ancient grains is a term used to describe grains that have been virtually unchanged for centuries but are often used in modern recipes. Will Bernard uses this idea as a metaphor in his album Ancient Grains. The basic concept is that the instruments used in this recording, such as guitars, organ, amplifiers and drums, are vintage in different ways. Some are actually vintage instruments while others are based on designs of vintage instruments. As with the ancient grains, the players use these older instruments to create their own musical recipes.

Bernard has been recording since the 1980s. He has worked with an impressive list of performers including Don Cherry, Herbie Hancock, The Funky Meters, Tom Waits, John Scofield and Jimmy McGriff. His experience covers a range of musical genres, including jazz, funk, hip-hop and non-Western music. With Ancient Grains, Bernard draws from his background to create a cool modern take on more traditional sounds and styles.

The album features Bernard on guitar, along with Sam Yahel on organ, and Donald Edwards on drums. These are all great players, and there's a definite chemistry among them. It's easy to see how these musicians have been schooled in the traditions, but they are also building from those traditions to explore new territory. In keeping with the ancient grains concept, this classic jazz trio setting produces some super cool, funky grooves seasoned with an occasional twist.

Most of the songs included on this album are original compositions. As Bernard describes it, the songs "draw on old forms and feelings that have been reworked in my own slightly skewed way." It's not free jazz or avant-garde, but it's not entirely traditional either. Take the opener "Dry Land Tourist," for example. This tight and funky groove seems like it could have come straight out of The Meters' playbook. At the same time, there's a little uncertainty to this 6/4 rhythm. It has an inventive and playful quality that isn't all that predictable. It is, as Bernard describes it, "slippery funk."

This idea of "slippery funk" comes across in many of the songs on Ancient Grains, including the title track, "Mazurka Tree" and "Trilobite." There is an appealing uniqueness to these songs, much like some of Thelonious Monk's compositions. This is not surprising, considering that Bernard considers Monk to be his "gateway into the world of straight-ahead jazz." He even covers the Monk song "Boo Boo's Birthday" here.

The album isn't limited to just upbeat funky jazz. Some of the songs have a very soulful and contemplative feel, and the song "Stone Valley" is a perfect example. Yahel's organ has a gospel-inspired sound, which highlights the soulful tone of the tune. This song is something of a tribute to Bernard's father who had recently passed. It's also a reflection about how quickly the world changes.

Ancient Grains offers a healthy mixture of funky, soulful and straight-ahead tunes. Bernard shows how creating new sounds doesn't mean abandoning established traditions. As with the actual ancient grains, many traditions can be effectively repurposed into a tasty musical entrée.

Track Listing

Dry Land Tourist; Ancient Grains; Five Finger Discount; Pleasure Seekers; Stone Valley; Trilobite; Boo Boo's Birthday; Mazurka Tree; Temescal; Right As Rain; Wake Up Call


Will Bernard: guitar; Sam Yahel: organ, Hammond B3; Donald Edwards: drums.

Album information

Title: Ancient Grains | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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