Review and photographs by Ed Conway
If there were any doubt that the Capital District is solidly on the Funk map, recent events should take care of that. First was last summer’s appearance of Bootsy Collins at Alive at Five. Then came the announcement that the Mother Ship itself would be landing with George Clinton coming to Alive at Five on Thursday, June 27. And as a great prelude, fellow Parliament Funkadelic co-founder Bernie Worrell brought his newest project, the Bernie Worrell Orchestra to Putnam Den in Saratoga Springs last weekend.
Trying to pin down Bernie into a particular musical style is impossible. In my opinion, he is responsible for creating musical styles wherever he plays. His career has morphed from straight rock to jazz to experimental rock – all while maintaining the funk. He has played with what seems to be everybody, including Talking Heads, as well as a few side projects such as Colonel Claypool’s Big Bucket of Bernie Brains with Les Claypool and Buckethead.
So as soon as the show was announced I couldn’t wait…
As the band opened the show, Bernie walked on stage with a pair of red light-up glasses glowing under the dark shaded stage lights looking like he had just stepped off the Mother Ship, announcing to the smaller-than-expected crowd that George Clinton made him wear them. The band appeared to be very much younger than the legend, seeming to be another veteran using younger musicians to make up for chops they may have lost along the way, but in short order, it was apparent the younger musicians were the only ones who could possibly have enough energy to keep up.
Song after song, Bernie directed the musicians through all sorts of musical gymnastics from center stage. As the band went from song to song, guitarists Kyle Cadena and Andrew Kimball traded solos from straight on rock to ethereal jazz perfectly fitting the mood of the song. The horn section – made up of Ofer Assaf (tenor sax), Shlomi Cohen (alto sax) and Justin Mullens (trumpet) – took turns playing nicely melodic jazz riffs while the rhythm section of percussionist Glen Fittin, bassist Scott Hogan and Bernie’s nephew/musical director Evan Taylor (on drums) made sure the band kept up the funk.
Sometimes Bernie sat back and listened as the musicians took turns in the spotlight, and other times he playfully echoed or taunted with some nimble keyboard work of his own. Although he allowed each to have their moment, Bernie never took a back seat. Although it is hard to pin down a favorite moment, two songs struck the crowd and had them all moving, “Thugs” and “If You Want It to Be Alright, Stop Being So Uptight and Move On.” The Wizard of Woo wowed us all!
Local band the Chronicles could not have been a more fitting opening act. While trombonist Bryan Brundige, saxman Jeff Nania and guitarist Justin Henricks, as well as their brand new keyboard player, provided some heavy duty jazz licks, bassist Daniel Lawson and drummer Andrae Surgick added the funk and soul. This was the first time I had seen them in action, but it certainly won’t be my last.