Friday, June 24, 2016

Woo, You're 'The One'

This is probably not the greatest news with which to start the weekend, but it's 2016. We should by now presume our pioneers will proceed past this plane apace, leaving us passengers perceiving a petrichoral patter of misty melancholia and reflective rainy recollection, even if the surroundings are sunny and sanguine at the surface. Or, I hate to fuck up your Friday, but here we go again.
If you haven't heard by now, perhaps the greatest living American musician is no longer, I'm afraid. This was an expected departure, and an end to physical suffering, so in that sense it is something of a marginal relief, if it can be such. But in the broader sense of overwhelming grief at the passing of one of the absolutely essential architects of the music of our lifetimes, today is one of the saddest days yet.
In these last months we have lost some of the true iconics, this is certain. None looms larger or leaves as big of an imprint on the soundscape of our Earth than Bernie Worrell -- who died after a battle with lung cancer at the age of 72 this morning -- but not before doing as much as any single musician you could name to invent and define the framework of Funk, and really the possibilities we take for granted in all of modern music.
The second ever person to receive a standalone, keyboard-inclusive MiniMoog -- the first, Keith Emerson, left us but a few short months ago -- Bernie Worrell used it to completely alter how music and grooves are constructed. The first to begin to record the trademark bass parts of hit songs -- with the now-standard elephantine-obese bottom and piercing, space-noodle highs --  entirely on a synthesizer, the Wizard of Woo completely revolutionized how we hear our music and the role of keyboards and synthesizer technology in what people create. Directions he illustrated provide a kind of thematic Instruction Manual for the Funk.
If he'd have just invented and implemented the Flash Light bassline upon the unsuspecting dancefloor booty-motorists of the world, he'd have firmly punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame, high atop the mythical musical Olympus of our minds -- not the one in Cleveland, although he's in that one too -- but his contributions only begin there. How many records did he transform, just by his technical and compositional presence? 
The third-eye-opening organ solo that begins (what's for me, the best) Funkadelic LP America Eats Its Young... what he means to the Talking Heads' Fear of Music & Remain In Light-era, and all those unequallable T-Heads tours of the early 1980s... all the projects with Bill Laswell, Les Claypool, countless seminal records and performances... his own albums, always designed to contain All the Woo In the World and indispensable... and then, the crowning P-Funk grooves for which he supplied some of the most vital melodic ignition and dance-floor propulsion. 
Bernie Worrell was, is and will always be Not Just Knee Deep in terms of status as one of the serious foundational figures of it all. You know that song you and the rest of the human race have loved since birth, that starts with that ridiculous keyboard riff -- possibly the catchiest, filthiest sequence of notes ever played on a synthesizer -- and then the lady asks "Whatcha gonna do when you get outta jail?" And the answer is "I'm gonna have some fun!"? Yeah, I thought so.
Even though I never myself met Bernie, I want to say this to my friends that knew and loved him: That the feeling you have now will pass, and will be replaced by the lasting knowledge that your friend came into our world and performed molecular, genetically altering feats of positive DNA mutation that, it could be argued, have gone a long way towards saving our species from itself.
He leaves this place in a demonstrably better condition than the one in which he found it, and the positive influence of the work he and his cohorts undertook helped provide the melodic weight to and the sonic vocabulary of dance music as we know it. These trails, now blazed, cannot and will not ever again go untrodden, like a Soul Train Line moving to eternity
I'd say to those people who knew him personally and are mourning his loss this evening to let the natural grief and the additional sadness around all the extracurricular conflict and pain be tempered by the internal recognition that what he (and his friends, living and dead, ethical and not) have accomplished will last forever plus one day, far outliving the transitory aspects of some of the participants' human limitations.
P-Funk and the universe that came down from the Mothership to accompany it in its propagation of the feeling of good stands as one of the pillars upon which a life worth living on this Earth is now fashioned by the people of all the corners of this world, and who knows what others. If you're looking for what it means to have lived a life, it doesn't get much better or more impactful than that, does it?
What Bernie helped give birth to -- I don't have to go into the inalienable fact that it forms the bedrock foundation of a great deal of the music that goes on on this planet, do I? You can't have two, three and four without One -- and what he leaves us with amounts to an unquantifiable treasure trove of possibilities that will go on to infinity and beyond.
When his wife Judie announced last week that he had been cleared for takeoff and was headed home, I set about organizing three unissued and undeniably incendiary sets taped -- by some very proficient audio engineers armed with soundboard access and some expensive microphones -- during the Bernie Worrell Orchestra tours of a few years ago, cobbling them into a kind of tribute, farewell box set that I have had on continuous loop for the last week as I've thought about what his music means to me.
Knowing this day would unfortunately soon have to come, I smoothed out some of the warts and misnamed files and eventually pieced this 5-and-a-half-hour Funkadelicacy together into a somewhat adequate form by which to worthily remember him, and offer it here to commemorate the life of Bernie Worrell and to wash over your weekend with widespread Woo Everlasting.
Bernie Worrell Orchestra
Get Your Hands Off
Tourbox, 2012-2014
Wormtown Music Festival
Camp Kee-Wanee
Greenfield, MA

01 intro jam
02 Woo Together
03 Watermelon Man
04 Funkentelechy
05 band intros
06 All The Things You Are
07 Thugs
08 Y-Spy/Super Stupid
09 Get Your Hands Off

Total time: 1:22:44
disc break is after Track 04

Bernie Worrell - keyboards, vocals
Andrew Kimball - guitar, vocals
Kyle Cadena - guitar, vocals
Scott Hogan - bass, vocals
Glen Fittin - percussion, vocals
Evan Taylor - drums
Ofer Assaf - tenor saxophone
Shlomi Cohen - alto saxophone
Justin Mullens - trumpet

Quixote's True Blue
Denver, CO

01 intro jam/
02 Woo Together
03 So Uptight (Move On)
04 BWO Is Landing
05 Thugs
06 Bernie's clavinet solo/
07 Y-Spy/
08 Super Stupid
09 band intros
10 (Quixote's) Mothership Connection
11 Come Together/
12 Take Me to the River
13 Get Your Hands Off
14 encore jam/Red Hot Mama

Total time: 1:44:52
disc break goes after Track 08

Bernie Worrell - keyboards, vocals
Andrew Kimball - guitar, vocals
Kyle Cadena - guitar, vocals
Scott Hogan - bass, vocals
Glen Fittin - percussion, vocals
Evan Taylor - drums
Nicole Scorsone - violin

Highland Brewing Company
Asheville, NC

01 Bernie's intro
02 Woo Together
03 So Uptight (Move On)/band intros
04 BWO Is Landing
05 Thugs
06 Take Me to the River/
07 Genius of Love/
08 Red Hot Mama
09 Get Your Hands Off/
10 Super Stupid
11 I'd Rather Be with You
12 Mothership Connection
13 encore break
14 Three Blind Mice/
15 Come Together

Total time: 2:15:22
disc break is after Track 08

Bernie Worrell - keyboards, vocals
Andrew Kimball - guitar, vocals
Evan Taylor - drums
Kory Stanbury - saxophones, percussion, vocals
Dorian Duffy - bass
Nick Montoya - keyboards + effects

3 incredibly well-captured, multichannel mixing-desk+mics matrix-mix mashups masterminded by JohnD and Corey -- tweaked and slightly edited to be free of dead air and more OS & disc-break friendly by me -- and all zipped together
Despite the idea that we knew it was coming, this moment is still really rough; hopefully these sets will provide a kind of New Orleans funeral, like a soundtrack to saying goodbye to a powerful and legendary figure with the appropriate celebratory overtones that are in order when we lay someone this monumental to rest after a life so toweringly well lived. Pull 'em down and keep funkin' forever, as the man himself says to the ecstatic assembled in one of these mammoth, galactically unkin' shows that serve almost like a Greatest Hits, valedictory series of performances when taken together. So long Bernie, and thanks for all the Funk.--J.
4.19.1944 - 6.24.2016
everybody's got a little light
under the sun