self-titled – Will Bernard and Motherbug
Just Like In The Old Country – Ten Ton Chicken
Those of you who've been reading my reviews for a while may have noticed
that the current crop of jazz-funkateers tend to push the wrong buttons for
me. Too often, they sound arch, proud of themselves for reiterating old
cliches and gathering up hipster trappings while failing to produce music
with any drama or depth.
That being the case, these two CDs, both West Coast funk projects, were
unexpected pleasures. The main reason is that both offer compositions that
are a pleasure to hear, perhaps the key element missing from a lot of
funk/fusion outings. With this element in place, the grooves and solos
become much more enjoyable, and the wah-wahs and other analog distortions
seem to be there for a reason.
Guitarist/composer Will Bernard has a twisted vision. He and his band know
their way around all the standard forms, but his compositions tend to take
enjoyably obtuse paths. Perhaps he doesn't make as many interesting things
happen within the jazz/funk form as Zappa or Shorter, but who does?
Certainly, though, he competes with any other composer who comes to mind in
A web search on Ten Ton Chicken reveals that the group has a prog/rock
pedigree, which one would hardly guess from listening to their new CD.
Granted, they take some harmonic and metric twists, but where Bernard's
group touches on a variety of moods, and seem to want some jazz respect, Ten
Ton Chicken sound like they would be perfectly content with being the
soundtrack to a Saturday night. Lots of tight sax/organ unisons, some
wicked guitar solos and a solid rhythm section.
Ten Ton Chicken knows what it wants to do, and does it well. As with many
of the denizens of Homegrown Music, the main ingredient missing is a
singular vision – the rare lyrics are amusing, but the combination of
erudite music and silly verbals is a path paved long ago by Zappa and Phish.
Still, their solos and compositions never cease to entertain even at the
challenging pace of eight tracks in 63 minutes, so it's easy not to ask
questions and party along.