Tuesday, June 21, 2016

REVIEW - Bill Laswell/Bernie Worrell/Karsh Kale: Funkcronomic

Cover design: Yoko Yamabe

Every Bernie Worrell-related release is a work of art, but Funkcronomic is perhaps the most significant collection of songs the Wizard of WOO has ever delivered.

One of the greatest musicians of our time, Worrell is in the final stages of his battle with a host of ailments including prostate cancer and Stage IV lung cancer. As we say goodbye to such an incomparable creative force, we can find solace in the fact that Worrell spent his final months as productive as ever. Earlier this year, Worrell gifted the world with Retrospectives, an instrumental collection of reimagined Parliament-Funkadelic classics co-produced by longtime collaborator Bill Laswell and featuring the talents of drummer extraordinaire Don McKenzie. At the same time, he stepped up his work in developing Native American-infused Funk with his band Khu.éex', who are set to release a long-awaited studio album in the near future. (I was fortunate enough to catch Khu.éex' – with Worrell in tow – live in Seattle on his 72nd birthday in April. It was easily one of the greatest music events I've ever seen.) But it is Funkcronomic that is closest to many hearts these days, as it could end up being the final new Bernie Worrell music released in the man's lifetime.

Released June 10 on M.O.D. Technologies, the digital-only Funkcronomic is a five-song instrumental EP that finds Worrell taking a sonic voyage with Laswell on bass and guitar and Indian DJ / producer Karsh Kale handling drums. The festivities are bookended by “Woo Doo” and “Shochurolling,” two '70s-style Funk numbers that instantly recall the magic of Worrell's time in Parliament-Funkadelic. The power of this era in Worrell's career is reinforced in “Flashlight-Redux,” which finds Laswell and Kale putting down a bulletproof foundation for Worrell to showcase his trademark groove. Folks, you could get 100 of the world's greatest keyboardists to cover this P-Funk classic, and there ain't nobody out there who's gonna top the Wizard. 

A great Bernie Worrell song or live show is a sonic roller coaster that literally takes you somewhere else as the maestro works his magic. As each song ends, listeners and/or audience members (at least those truly paying attention and feeling it) are delivered back to Earth, grateful to have been able to take the trip. Funkcronomic's “Outer Woo” exemplifies this phenomenon, with Worrell's otherworldly keys opening our ears to the EP's trippiest and most mind-altering moments.

While the multifaceted Laswell is as known for instigating unadulterated noise with the likes of Praxis and PainKiller as he is for producing artists like Peter Gabriel and Mick Jagger, his playing on Funkcronomic is both conventional and inspired, offering a solid flow to Worrell's esoteric explorations. Kale's spirited drumming add a bounce and sense of looseness to the affair (especially on “Flash Back”), adding further evidence that three three gentlemen truly enjoyed making this music together. Flawless from beginning to end, Funkcronomic is not only another great addition to the Worrell canon, but an excellent way for the uninitiated to be introduced to a magical soul who is leaving us with a least one more way to enjoy his incomparable craft.

When I interviewed Bernie in January, he left me with these words: “Be careful out there; [it's a] crazy world.”

You too, Bernie. May your journey from this life be peaceful and full of the same beauty and joy you've given us during your time here. We will treasure you always.

More on Bernie Worrell:

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com
(NOTE: Due to the high volume of emails received, a response is not guaranteed.) 

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