LIVE: The Will Bernard Trio @ the Parish Public House, 6/12/15
It was a dark and stormy night. No, seriously, I’m not spoofing Charles Schultz here. We’re talking gully-washing rains, heavy-duty lightning, and winds that were knocking down trees all over the Capital Region. This was the primary reason why the crowd at the Will Bernard Trio’s appearance at the Parish Public House barely reached double figures – and that only happened when the members of opening act Jeff Nania & the Elements came back from their post-set dinner to watch the Bay Area-based guitarist set fire to the room.
That’s the thing I loved about this show… I mean, besides the fact that Bernard plays the kind of unadorned, no-nonsense, hit-you-right-in-the-mush music that makes 21st-century jazz so exciting to me. When faced with attendance issues like this one, a lot of bands would have gotten out their laptops and emailed the performance in; Bernard and his partners – keyboardist Brian Charette and drummer Eric Kalb – decidedly went the other way right from the jump, launching into a fuzzed-up version of “Briar Patch” that would clear the decks in any venue.
My first exposure to Bernard was on his 2013 Posi-tone release Just Like Downtown, which serves up a dynamic mix of originals and covers ranging from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Bali Hai” to Page & Plant’s “Dancing Days.” As hot as Bernard was in that session, his tone remained extremely polished. That definitely didn’t prepare me for the paint-peeling snarl Bernard prefers in a live-fire exercise. Imagine John Scofield playing his guitar through a pissed-off Rottweiler, and you’ve got a relative approximation. Bernard’s certainly got Scofield-level solo skills, which he amply demonstrated on his grooving “Blisters” and the funked-out John Medeski composition “Baby Goats.” Bernard may have broken up the set’s pace with a sterling version of Stanley Turrentine’s “Buster Brown,” but that ever-present growl made this soul jazz with a spine of Valyrian steel.
Charette and Kalb are Bernard’s “band from Brooklyn.” Theoretically, the geographic distance between their home and Bernard’s would hamper whatever chemistry they might develop given concentrated local rehearsal time. So much for THAT theory, as the trio was absolutely skin-tight throughout the 90-minute set, catching lightning-fast changes that were gone before you knew it and having big fun on every tune. When Charette wasn’t laying down hot solo lines of his own, he was throwing in swirling effects to “Blisters” and the dark penultimate piece “Garage A” that were right out of “Outer Limits.” Kalb – last seen in Greater Nippertown in 2010 as part of some iteration of the Charlie Hunter Trio – sprayed the room with machine-gun riffs on the new tune “D&B,” upped the island quotient to Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” by banging steel pans on the side of his kit, and truly brought the noise on Bernard’s surf-music take on Jack MacDuff’s “Do It Now.”
Charette really took it to the next level when Bernard brought the funk. Although Charette is my favorite jazz organist, and I play his own Posi-tone releases on my radio show, I’d only seen him play acoustic piano in concert – most recently during Tom Tallitsch’s scintillating drop party at Birdland in NYC. But as drop-dead gorgeous a pianist as Charette can be, he is totally in his element on organ. Give the man a funky beat and he simply sets sail. It was his own pumping riff that got “Boogie On” started the absolute right way, and he and Bernard put the Meters’ “Ease Back” (which Bernard introduced as “one tune from the Motherland”) right into that sweet and savory NOLA groove that would make a mannequin get on down.
The storms had passed by the time the show let out, but so had the chance for anyone to catch this flame-throwing trio in one of Albany’s coolest clubs. Bernard and his partners were set to play the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival the next day, and I envied whatever crowd met them. Trio acts can get lost in large-venue shows, but this group’s towering sound would easily solve that problem. And if the Will Bernard Trio went pedal-to-the-metal for a relatively unpopulated house, the possibilities of them in front of a festival crowd were mind-boggling.