Blue Plate Special (Palmetto Records) serves up some well-rounded, tightly knit jazz funk with organ-heavy jams and finessed funk rhythms. Will Bernard, a fusion scene veteran, enlists the help of fellow jazz-funk heavyweights John Medeski (MMW, keys), Stanton Moore (Galactic, drums) and Andy Hess (Gov't Mule, bass). Bernard, however, is not necessarily the meat on this plate. Although the listener might expect Bernard's guitar to have the starring role, the organs and keyboards have more emphasis as Medeski adds his textured future-vintage sounds.
Medeski's haphazard funk approach often leads grisly futuristic jams ("571"). The simple, meditative bassline and whistling organ feel like a '70s soundtrack. Bernard's previously innocuous presence expands, creating an extra layer and echo to Medeski's dirty sound. Returning to the head, Bernard shreds some metallic strings as the rhythm section and Medeski keep a hushed but rocking jam going.
Perhaps what sets this fresh, funky jazz apart from most fusion records is the appearance of traditional gospel ("How Great Thou Art"). Bernard recalls some gospel steel with a electric slide. Medeski's initial church organ distends as the introduction progresses, allowing for a percussion-less holy moment, where Bernard's passionate and sluggish guitar part almost has a Southern accent with its dips and slides. When crashing drums do enter, the mood will move you to tears with its spiritual clarity. The concluding piece is perhaps the cherry pie to the meat and three.