Photography and Story by Steven Philips StSteven.com

I’ve seen Bernie Worrell a number of times in the past few years, usually with Steve Kimock, both in Philly and at Gathering of the Vibes. But the Bernie Worrell Orchestra was a new group for me, and the feel of the music was also new. Starting out with a moody improvisation, Bernie seemed to be just putting some sound out into the air as he took in the atmosphere and felt for a vibe that would suit the evening. He got in a groove, the band followed, and the mood was set. It was improvisational funky jazz, with teases of licks, chords, and phrases from familiar songs, and there were sounds coming from the keyboards that are unique to this veteran of diverse bands and recording projects from pFunk to the Talking Heads.

Bernie Worrell Orchestra

Bernie Worrell Orchestra

 

In between the improvs were a good number of structured songs, some familiar, some new, with inspirational lyrics, and a consistent message of positivity. With four keyboards to choose from, including analog and digital synths, the diversity of sounds, including some heavy synthesized bass, Bernie was able to go in many musical directions. But it always seemed to come back to heavily syncopated funk. Extended solos from the guitar and saxophones also explored new angles on some classic funk melodies. There was plenty to dance to, and some to send your mind into some strange places. Truly an inspired set.

Bernie Worrell Orchestra

Bernie Worrell Orchestra

Opening up for The BWO was Mike Frank and Friends, a rock band that played a number of solid original songs and got the evening off to a good start. Their songs led to some good and interesting jams with extended guitar solos that were energetic, creative, and established their personal sound. Second was Gent Treadly, a band which has a lot of history, but I never really figured out who was who, and a couple people who I expected to see on stage weren’t there. But the sound was solid, anchored by the rhythm section which set some tight beats, and included a percussionist playing an array of Brazilian shakers. The guitar playing was out front; loud and metallic, sometimes too much, sometimes just right. They played some great original songs and did a great job of getting the crowd ready for Bernie, for whom they clearly have a lot of respect.

Mike Frank and Friends

Mike Frank and Friends

So a super fun night at the Ardmore Music Hall. Ivan had the sound well balanced and Sara and her crew kept the drinks flowing. If you missed this show, keep your eyes open for Bernie Worrell’s next visit to Philly, cause he’s an icon, and for very good reason. ThatsWhatsUp!