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Will Bernard: Freelance Subversives

Doug Collette By

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Will Bernard: Freelance Subversives
A native Californian currently headquartered in Brooklyn, Will Bernard's geographical touchpoints mirror the expanse of solo and collaborative projects to which he's contributed over the course of his career. Just a few of the names appearing in his discography are also indicative of the guitarist's broadly eclectic approach: eccentric singer/composer Tom Waits, drummer extraordinaire Stanton Moore and guitar wunderkind Charlie Hunter. And dating back to Will's membership with the latter in T.J. Kirk (with drummer Scott Amendola), there's been a wry mindset pervading Bernard's idiosyncratic solo efforts, a quality ultimately rendering them as accessible as Freelance Subversives (its cryptic title a tip-off in that regard).

On previous records, Will Bernard has bonded with similarly-aligned instrumental lineups that interact like the musician contributing here, through funky yet lithe motion(s). Yet the frisky tongue-in-cheek opener titled "Pusher Danish" introduces how equally familiar and fresh is this tenth record under his own name. Set in motion and kept moving apace through the drumming of Eric Kalb and percussionist Moses Patrou, the guitarist (and composer of this all-original slate of eleven songs) trades solos in quick with keyboardist Eric Finland, both of whom maintain exquisite taste and comparable economy. The personnel rotates over the course of the album, but, through those changes, those aforementioned virtues remain as stable as the cohesion of the musicianship.

In his ancillary role as producer on Freelance Subversives, Bernard displays the versatile expertise his experience would suggest, from the audio quality right through to the logical but slightly unpredictable sequencing of the cuts. Accordingly, the alto, soprano, tenor an baritone saxophones of Skerik and Jay Rodriguez elicit the slightly camouflaged but indispensable elements of jazz plus r&b on "Raffle" and "Grunk," near the album's center, while a handful of recording engineers find the expertise of their work preserved through the mastering of Tom Dimuzio. Whether situated between headphones or within the stereo spectrum of a room, hearing cuts like "Back Channel" invariably move a listener to feel as though he/she is sitting in the middle of the musicians in action.

The tight ensemble playing here is also fully in keeping with the taut arrangements. Still, there remains a palpable air of loose, fun-loving spontaneity throughout cuts such as "Blue Chenille," where a breezy air wafts around and ever upward once it arises from Bernard's tantalizing slide guitar. Such technique is as pointed as it is pungent in that respect though, making for an altogether colorful mix as the elastic guitar lines weave in and out of keyboardist Ben Stivers' Farfisa and Fender Rhodes electric piano notes. And there's always more going on than first appears to be during these roughly five-to-seven minute tracks, so by the time wizard keyboardist John Medeski (of...Martin & Wood) appears simultaneously on Hammond B3 and Wurlitzer for "Clafunj," there's a righteous sense more Bernard and company have traveled more than just a nominal expanse of stylistic ground.

Appearing near the album's mid-point, that cut functions something like the fulcrum of the LP. And the title tune that directly follows only ratchets up the intensity of the playing heading into the homestretch of Freelance Subversives. As carefully as Will Bernard no doubt conceived these recording sessions, and successfully recruited such like-minded compatriots, they all executed the recordings with a panache that is as addictive as it is delicious. Consequently, the moodiest number here, "Garage A," appearing as it does near the conclusion, allows for contemplation of that very prospect—immediately before a repeat spin no doubt commences.

Track Listing

Pusher Danish; Back Channel; Raffle; Blue Chenille; Grunk; Clafunj; Freelance Subversive; Lifer; Garage A; Skill Set; We the People.

Personnel

Will Bernard: guitar, electric; John Medeski: keyboards; Skerik: saxophone; Jay Rodriguez: saxophone; Jeff Hanley: bass; Eric Kalb: drums; Moses Patrou: percussion; Eric Finland: keyboards; Ben Stivers: keyboards; Ben Zwerin: bass.

Album information

Title: Freelance Subversives | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Ropeadope

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