“written by Bill Milkowski”.
This Press Release/Liner Notes originally appeared on the inside of the Physical CD packaging.
It was 30 years ago that South Florida guitarist Randy Bernsen burst onto the national scene with Music For Planets, People and Washing Machines, his auspicious debut for MCA Records that featured a lineup of such all-world players as Jaco Pastorius, Peter Erskine, Bob James, Bobby Thomas Jr., Othello Molineaux, Michael Urbaniak and Herbie Hancock. The proverbial hard act to follow, it was succeeded in 1986 by Bernsen’s acclaimed sophomore outing, Mo’ Wasabi, which had Jaco, Erskine and Hancock returning and also featured contributions from the likes of Michael Brecker, Toots Thielemans, Marcus Miller, Steve Gadd and Wayne Shorter. The guitarist completed his MCA trifecta with 1988’s similarly star-studded Paradise Citizens.
From 1990 to 1992, Bernsen was a member of the Zawinul Syndicate, replacing fellow Florida native Scott Henderson in Joe Zawinul’s exotic world music-meets-jazz ensemble and playing on the album Lost Tribes. More recently, he has toured and recorded with the Jaco Pastorius Big Band, appearing on the Jaco tribute albums Word Of Mouth Revisited in 2003 and The Word Is Out in 2006. Over the years, the longtime Fort Lauderdale resident has further showcased his six-string skills and composer-arranger prowess on a series of self-produced small group recordings (most recently 2012’s funky organ trio outing, App Teaser with guest artist John Medeski) while also earning his commercial pilot’s license, writing music for TV and touring through Japan and South East Asia.
GRACE NOTES marks Bernsen’s return to working on a bigger canvas with another all-star cast, including Yellowjackets co-founders Jimmy Haslip and Russell Ferrante, drummers Erskine, Gary Novak and Virgil Donati, keyboardists Scott Kinsey, Mac Chew and Colin James, saxophonist Steve Tavaglione, percussionists Luis Conte, Archie Pena and blues harmonica ace Rockin’ Jake. Florida homeboys Othello Molineaux, Bobby Thomas Jr. and Julius Pastorius (Jaco’s son) also make special guest appearances on his 12th album as a leader.
Co-produced by bassist Haslip, GRACE NOTES travels from a Miles Davis Tutu-era flavored jam to a crackling big band chart with some detours into soul-jazz, smooth jazz, funk, blues and N’awlins second line along the way. “It’s a collection of different musical elements that I’ve explored all coming together into one project,” says the guitarist, whose first road work was with Blood, Sweat & Tears back in 1977. “With Jimmy’s guidance and handpicking some of his L.A. bros for the project, Kinsey, Novak, Russell Ferrante, Virgil Donati and engineer Rich Breen, it all came together. I couldn’t be more pleased!”
Bernsen comes out stinging on the opener, a remake of the Yellowjackets’ slow grooving “Black Top” (from 2009’s Dreamland). While Steve Tavaglione conjures up an ominous Miles muted trumpet vibe on EWI, Novak powers the track with his slamming backbeat alongside Haslip’s slap basslines. Co-composer Ferrante provides some funky clarinet work on the bridge and comps in classic soul-jazz fashion on piano throughout. Randy’s slinky guitar solo pushes the envelope bot in his note and timbre choices, and Tavaglione takes the piece out with some sinuous soprano sax lines at the tag.
An ambitious re-imagining of Freddie Hubbard’s 1970 classic “Red Clay” features some dynamic big band flourishes courtesy of Bernsen’s guitar synth and Tavaglione’s synth horn work. Newcomer Max Boiko also contributes some tasty nuggets on trumpet. Randy shows some facile whammy bar articulation on his solo midway through the piece and also experiments with touches of harmonizer before drummer Erskine engages in a percussive breakdown with Conte’s congas to elevate the proceedings.
Easily his most impressive and personal project since the ‘80s, Bernsen’s star-studded GRACE NOTES has the veteran guitarist-composer covering a myriad of musical bases with confidence, swag and the chops to back it up.