Standards

Bernie Worrell

Scufflin’ Records, 2011

http://www.bernieworrell.com

REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/04/2011

There’s no question Bernie Worrell, a founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic, is as talented as any keyboardist. He has worked with many great artists in four decades, from Talking Heads to Yoko Ono to Buddy Guy. His latest solo album, Standards, is a nice collection of jazz covers that range from improvisational to groovy, though the record has its weak spots. It’s also better if you know or familiarize yourself with the songs he covers. Unsurprisingly, the strongest tracks give the spotlight to Worrell.

The album starts off personal with “Take The ‘A’ Train,” a great take on the Billy Strayhorn original. Worrell’s interpretation is more relaxed and sentimental than the Duke Ellington recording. “Take The ‘A’ Train” is also the only song on Standards featuring Worrell by himself. You can tell this song means a lot to him.

In contrast, “Take Five” features Worrell with his band, including guitarist Smokey Hormel, bassist Melvin Gibbs, and drummer J.T. Lewis. This funky track doesn’t compare that well to the original recording by the Dave Brubek Quartet. Notwithstanding that this version features more solos than the Brubek version, it is not as exciting. Brubek’s band not only changed up their instrumentation but also used volume to dynamic effect. Worrell’s band doesn’t measure up in this respect. They don’t measure up to Worrell’s own creativity, either. For example, Hormel’s rhythm guitar in “Take Five” fares better than his lead, which vies for space with Worrell’s keyboard in the second half and comes off as contrived in comparison. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Worrell’s band finds its place on the bossa nova standard, “Agua De Beber.” Wisely, Worrell stays at the forefront throughout this track. Worrell’s improvisation makes this my favorite interpretation of “Agua De Beber” by far, even though it isn’t the definitive version.

Like “Take Five,” “All The Things You Are” is given a funky spin, but unlike “Take Five,” it’s not bogged down with unimaginative solos. Gibbs does his best work on the bass here because he’s focused on a groove. The attention to volume and shorter solos allow the song to take you on a journey, an experience different from those offered by Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Joe Pass, and the many others who have played this standard.

In the middle of the album is perhaps the best cover, “You’re My Thrill.” Billie Holiday unquestionably recorded the definitive version of this song, and Worrell takes a cue from her, tapping into the darkness of the tune. His approach makes the crescendo at the four-minute mark that much more affecting.

Next is “Watermelon Man,” a Herbie Hancock original that Hancock funked up for Headhunters. Worrell and his band capture the spirit of the song, but this track doesn’t hit you in the gut like the Headhunters version.

The band slows down again for “Bye Bye Blackbird,” a song that will always be nice and perhaps make you sick because of that. It works best in a bookstore.

“Killer Joe” doesn’t bring anything that noteworthy to the Benny Golson original. Lewis’ drumming in the middle is perfunctory, and Hormel’s guitar solo is cheesy (he does better work on the subtler songs).

Standards has a good ending with “Moon River.” Hormel’s solo in the first half allows you to forget the schlock he does in “Killer Joe.” Appropriately, Worrell’s sentimental piano is at work again. I can imagine looking at a river from a back porch while listening to this one. 

Despite the mediocrity of certain tracks, Standards is worth a shot. It’s not groundbreaking or challenging, but it’s not trying to be. The best moments are when Worrell’s the clear lead and the band knows its place. Another album with this in mind could result in something even better.

Rating: B

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© 2011 Jedediah Pressgrove and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Scufflin’ Records, and is used for informational purposes only.