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Blue Plate Special

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Album Review

To some musicologists, it is a contradiction to say that music is "funky yet complex and cerebral." After all, funk (as in Tower of Power, Cameo, Rick James, ConFunkShun, and the Gap Band) is booty-shaking party music at heart. But in fact, many artists have successfully combined the funky and the intellectual; Miles Davis certainly did it on his fusion albums of the 1970s, and jazz' electric avant-garde is full of people who hold Albert Ayler and James Brown in equally high regard. So bearing all that in mind, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that Blue Plate Special finds guitarist Will Bernard getting his groove on without sacrificing his intellectual urges. Stylistically, this January 2008 recording isn't easy to categorize. The music is definitely instrumental jazz — that much is obvious — but what type of jazz? It's probably best to describe Blue Plate Special (which unites Bernard with John Medeski on keyboards, Andy Hess on electric bass, and Stanton Moore on drums) as a mixture of soul-jazz/jazz-funk, post-bop and fusion (with occasional hints of the avant-garde). Although Bernard has demonstrated that he is comfortable in avant-garde settings, Blue Plate Special seldom ventures far into the avant-garde realm; if this 56-minute disc has an inside/outside perspective, Bernard's quartet plays inside at least 85-percent of the time. Nonetheless, the solos can go into some decidedly cerebral places; most of the melodies and grooves are relatively accessible, but when Bernard and his colleagues solo, they don't shy away from the abstract. With influences ranging from Larry Young to fusion-era Miles Davis to Medeski, Martin & Wood, Blue Plate Special is a solid effort — not quite Bernard's most essential release, but definitely solid and appealing.


Born: Berkeley, CA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

An expansive guitarist with a bent toward funk and avant-garde jazz, Will Bernard first came to prominence as a member of Peter Apfelbaum's world music and jazz-oriented Hieroglyphics Ensemble in the late '80s. Although Bernard has continued to record with Apfelbaum, the ever-reaching guitarist has also found himself working with artists from a variety of genres, including the hip-hop group the Coup, New Orleans funkster drummer Stanton Moore, and world/new age bandleader Jai Uttal. On his...
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Blue Plate Special, Will Bernard
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