Will Bernard’s Freelance Subversives @ Live at The Falcon, Marlboro
Written by Staff on February 6, 2024
IN CONCERT: Will Bernard’s Freelance Subversives @ Live at The Falcon, Marlboro – by J Hunter.
Unfortunately, the one thing you still need to get the full spectrum of music in RadioradioxLand is a car that gets good gas mileage: The fact is, despite new venues and altered booking policies, the best acts (in all genes) still don’t make it up to Albany. That’s why I went down to Live at the Falcon’s opening weekend so Will Bernard could rock my soul one more time.
Bernard’s searing guitar was rocking the alt-jazz world long before I discovered his 2013 Positone release Just Like Downtown: Past band members of Bernard’s include John Medeski, Stanton Moore, Charlie Hunter, Steven Bernstein, and a lot of other burners who help make my musical life perfect. Bernard’s been in retrospective mode lately, pulling together an all-star quartet at Smalls in the West Village in January to revisit Bernard’s best Positone release, 2016’s dizzying Out and About. Saturday’s concert was all about Will’s 2020 Ropeadope date Freelance Subversives, and there was some righteous musical insurrection happening all night long.
There’s a little bit of groove in everything Bernard does, but the groove was monumental right from the jump on the driving opener “Baby Goats.” Longtime Bernard drummer/co-conspirator Eric Kalb always brings the big beat, and the beat got even sweeter thanks to percussionist/vocalist Moses Patrou joining Bernard and keyboardist Henry Hey on the frontline. The times I’ve seen Bernard and Kalb play together, they were in a power trio with keyboardist Brian Charette, who handled all the bass parts along with his usual musical alchemy; this time, the bottom was firmly handled by Ben Zwerin, whose bass was Christmas turkey-PHAT all evening long.
Bernard was still kinda-sorta in retrospective mode on this night, touching on other projects throughout the 90-minute set: He opened & closed with boogie-centric tunes from Blue Plate Special, his 2008 Palmetto recording with Medeski, Moore, and Gov’t Mule bassist Andy Hess; Ancient Grains was a “traditional” organ-trio date Will did for Positone in 2021, but he easily fed Bernard “Pretty” Purdy’s “Stone Valley” through the Freelance Subversives matrix and it came out amazing, as you’d expect. Bernard even pulled out a new composition, the appropriately titled groover “Slow Mover”, giving hope to those of us begging for a Freelance Subversives sequel.
The regular Subversives keyboardist is Eric Finland, but a brain tumor has sidelined him for the next little while, so that was the bad news. The good news was twofold: The tumor was removed successfully, and Finland was subbed by Hey, who’s been making lava-hot music with Manhattan Transfer guitarist Pete McCann. Hey was slinging a Hammond B3 organ on “Goats”, so he won my affection in the first 30 seconds, and his work on a Nord electric keyboard brought the hearty Fender Rhodes sound to the Subversives’ compositions “Lifer” and “Garage A.”
Bernard was solidly on his game, as he always is, making his Gibson hollow-body sound any way he wanted as he torched us until we were as crisp as Popeye’s chicken. The real X factor, though, was Patrou. Along with making the groove firmer and wider, Moses added soulful vocals to the hard-and-fast “Hang Tough” and the Johnny Adams classic “I’m Your Body & Fender Man.” Mardi Gras was still over a week away, but you really felt that NOLA spirit when Patrou was doing his thing.
Marlboro’s a bit of a schlep from Albany, but the Falcon’s been on my to-do list for almost a decade because owner Lee Falco has no hesitation in bringing stone cold killers like Will Bernard up from NYC. Bernard brought a whole crew of killers with him on this night, and we were all laid out like stunned, happy cordwood when they finished their work. If that’s not worth burning a little gas, I don’t know what is.