Grace Notes Randy Bernsen

Album info



Label: Blue Canoe Records

Genre: Jazz

Subgenre: Fusion

Artist: Randy Bernsen

Album including Album cover


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FLAC 44.1 $ 12.30
  • 1Black Top05:16
  • 2Red Clay04:56
  • 3Grace05:13
  • 4Indian Rivers04:30
  • 5She's A Woman04:24
  • 6Blues Traveler06:12
  • 7Freddie's Conversion04:41
  • 8Malibu Man05:27
  • Total Runtime40:39

Info for Grace Notes

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, AppTeaser 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.

Rhythms of Grace 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, Rhythms of Grace 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 elements that I do coming together into one project,” says the guitarist, whose first road work was with Blood, Sweat & Tears back in 1977. “And with Jimmy’s guidance and him handpicking some of his L.A. bros for the project, like Kinsey and Novak, Russell Ferrante, Virgil Donati and especially the engineer, Rich Breen, it came out great. 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 clavinet work on the bridge and comps in classic soul-jazz fashion on piano throughout. Randy’s slinky guitar solo pushes the envelope both 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.

“Grace,” underscored by Donati’s super slick fills and heavy funk undercurrent, has Bernsen deftly chording the engaging melody in fingerstyle fashion while a triumverate of keyboard players (Kinsey on organ, Colin James on Fender Rhodes, Mac Chew on synths) lays down a thick cushion underneath. For an added treat, percussionist Archie Pena whistles the memorable melody in unison with Randy’s nylon string acoustic guitar lines. “Archie is one of the best drummers I have ever worked with,” says Bernsen. “He’s just one of these musical giants. We did a gig for five years every weekend together and he never failed to amaze me. He’d always come up whistling my melodies on the gig. I think he knew my music better than I did. So I wanted to feature him whistling on one just, just blowing, a la Toots Thielemans.”

The exotic “Indian Rivers” opens with a flourish of sitar before Bernsen and Kinsey navigate the intricate head on guitar and Rhodes, respectively. Erskine provides his signature groove on this powerful number, which gradually morphs into a Latin-tinged romp highlighted by a percussive breakdown by conguero Conte. Bernsen also turns in a killer clean-toned first-take guitar solo here while Erskine adds a brilliant solo of his own to kick things up a notch. Randy’s reworking of the Beatles’ “She’s A Woman” (a tune which Jeff Beck also took liberties with on his 1975 fusion classic, Blow By Blow) has a decided country-bluegrass flavor with the guitarist delivering some Albert Lee-styled chicken picking on his Fender Telecaster. Guest Rockin’ Jake also delivers some downhome harmonica work on this clever cover. “I’ve had a special spot in my heart for the Beatles since I was 12 years old or so,” says Randy. “Throughout the years I’ve always done one or two Beatles song in my show, and I started doing this kind of slap picking country-ish thing on this song a little while ago. After I recorded my version I went back and listened to what Beck did on his. As always, he’s the master. But I love how this came out.” The hard-hitting “Blues Traveler,” driven by Julius Pastorius’ shuffle groove, has Bernsen stinging in Robben Ford fashion while Othello turns in a typically brilliant pans solo and bassist Haslip cuts loose on a solo of his own. Young trumpeter Boiko also contributes a bright burst of high notes in his solo while DJ Torin Lawson adds some unique colors and textures on this slamming number.

“Freddie’s Conversion” is an organ-fueled number with a N’awlins second line feel, courtesy of Novak, that sounds like a cross between The Meters and Eddie Harris. “That’s basically Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Mr. Clean,’” Randy reveals. “That was a real collaboration between Scott Kinsey and Mac Chew on keyboards. Novak also plays great on this track and Tav’s soprano solo was awesome! I mean, that’s what a release is all about. And then Haslip finally gets a chance to burn on this track and I think he smoked it. It’s a fun song.”

The collection closes on a dynamic note with “Malibu Man,” Bernsen’s homage to his former bandleader, the late Joe Zawinul, a longtime resident of Malibu, California. Former Weather Reporter Robert Thomas Jr. turns in some scintillating percussion work on this percolating number while Kinsey channels his inner Joe in his synth work here.

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. (Bill Milkowski)

Randy Bernsen, guitar, guitar synths
Jimmy Haslip, bass (tracks 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
Trey Henry, acoustic bass (track 2)
Peter Erskine, drums (tracks 2, 8)
Gary Novak, drums (tracks 1, 7)
Virgil Donati, drums (track 3)
Julius Pastorius, drums (track 3)
Russell Ferrante, piano, synths (track 1)
Steve Tavaglione, saxophone and synth horns (tracks 2, 4)
Max Boiko, trumpet (track 2, 6)
Luis Conte, percussion (tracks 2, 4, 5)
Colin James, Fender Rhodes, piano (tracks 6, 7)
Scott Kinsey, organ, Fender Rhodes (tracks 3, 4, 7, 8)
Mac Chew, synths (track 3, 7)
Archie Pena, percussion (track 5)
Rockin’ Jake, harmonica (track 5)
Torin Lawson, DJ (track 7)
Robert Thomas, Jr., hand drums (track 8)

Randy Bernsen
Aouth Florida guitarist Randy Bernsen started his recording career in an unorthodox way, calling a collection of jazz/fusion luminaries who, even to his surprise, agreed to be a part of his 1986 debut album Music for People, Planets & Washing Machines. After recruiting fretless bass giant and fellow South Florida resident Jaco Pastorius and getting a return call of interest from keyboard virtuoso Herbie Hancock, it was easier to interest keyboardist Bob James and drummer Peter Erskine. Released on MCA's Zebra label, the album earned Bernsen write-ups in Down Beat and Guitar Player magazines and appeared to start a flourishing career. Bernsen's follow-up, 1987's Mo' Wasabi, was even better, as his initial all-stars were joined by saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Michael Brecker, bassist Marcus Miller, drummer Steve Gadd, and harmonica legend Toots Thielemans. More positive press from JAZZIZ and USA Today followed. A stint with former Weather Report leader Joe Zawinul (replacing fellow South Florida guitarist Scott Henderson) helped develop Bernsen's unique guitar synthesizer talent. This resulted in some fine work on Zawinul's 1992 Lost Tribes CD, and Bernsen's independently released CD Calling Me Back Home featured another all-star roster the next year... Joe Sample, Toots Thielemans, Brandon Fields, and Abraham Laboriel. His house gig at a Fort Lauderdale club resulted in Bernsen's next CD, Live at Tavern 213, and featured excellent improvisations and catchy melodies. Live in San Miguel de Allende was Bernsen’s follow up CD recorded at an international festival in Mexico. Presently, Jericho Jams, his production house, is responsible for the following three CDs, Be Still and Know, Angels We Have Heard On High, and AppTeaser, recorded with his organ trio, Uzi Nizri/organ and David Nizri/drums. This CD also features jazz jam legend John Medeski on the cut Groove On. (Bernsen’s musical nod to his former boss Zawinul.) ... JAZZ-JAM-IMPROV!

GRACE NOTES is the latest project, co-produced with Jimmi Haslip, features Peter Erskine, Scott Kinsey, Russel Ferrante and other Los Angeles illuminaries.

ALL THAT JAZZ- "Bernsen is always melodic and interesting; regardless if he is writing lines and arrangements with a soul-jazz, bluesy or rippin' on a second line feel, his note choices and delivery is always simply beautiful."

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