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Will Bernard: Out & About

Dan Bilawsky By

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Will Bernard has received his due for sideman work in a variety of settings, but you rarely hear anybody talk about stylistic range when it comes to his own leader dates. This is the album that could—and should—change that. Over the course of eleven originals, Bernard continually frames himself in different ways, constantly redefining his outlook and mining fresh musical veins with some help from four A-list musicians—organist Brian Charette, saxophonist John Ellis, bassist Ben Allison, and drummer Allison Miller. It's a winning formula, making Out & About an out-and-out success.

The album opens with "Happy Belated," a funky number with a twist or two that falls right into Bernard's comfort zone. Allison's fulsome bass and Miller's solid drumming lock everything in place, Bernard and Ellis sync up when an angular interlude appears, and metric adjustments are made without altering the natural feel of the piece. It's a number that could've set Bernard up perfectly for a funk-themed record, but he doesn't oblige. Instead, he turns sharply at every opportunity. "Not Too Fancy"—a brief and intimate guitar-and-bass duo that's quaint, serene, and comforting—follows, completely changing the direction implied with "Happy Belated." Then there's "Next Guest," a piece that flies and gives Ellis, Bernard, Allison, and Miller a chance to really dialogue with one another; "Habenera," a shape-shifting avant-tango that benefits from Charette's out-of-the-box organ work; "Redwood (Business Casual)," a number energized by Miller's propulsive ride cymbal and powerful soloing; and "Homeward Bound," a straight-eighth selection that plays up the partnership between rhythmic recurrence and mood evolution.

With each of the five numbers that remain, Bernard and his buddies continue to defy expectations. "Homebody" carries some heartland inflections and gives Ellis and Bernard a chance to continually cross paths and dance, "Suggested Reading" sets Bernard's slinky guitar against Allison's stout yet slippery bass lines and Miller's happening grooves, and "Full Sweep" delivers wonderfully off-balanced hits and harmonic shifts. Then things wind down with a gravity-reduced exploration called "Pan Seared" and the swaying title track. After all of that it's tempting to see this as an identity crisis record. The truth, however, is something much simpler: This is Will Bernard, in all of his multifaceted glory.

Track Listing: Happy Belated; Not Too Fancy; Next Guest; Hanbenera; Redwood (Business Casual); Homeward Bounc; Homebody; Suggested Reading; Full Sweep; Pan Seared; Out And About.

Personnel: Will Bernard: guitar; John Ellis: saxophone; Brian Charette: organ; Ben Allison: bass; Allison Miller: drums.

Title: Out & About | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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