By Herb Boyd | Published September 2022
Will Bernard’s Pond Life is redolent with styles that are at once conversational in tone, as on “Still Drinkin’”; spacey when the group delivers “Type A”; an abundance of reverb complements John Medeski’s piano on “Four Is More”; a bluesy motif permeates the title tune; and there’s a smooth in-the-pocket penchant on “Moving Target” with an occasional foot on the wah-wah pedal.
Bernard, as ever, is as generous a leader as he is a profoundly gifted composer. His sense of sharing has an intuitive feel that allows Medeski to stretch out on “Poor Man’s Speedball” on the Hammond B-3, and it’s a swinging dominance that folds neatly into the crevices of a down-home rhythm.
While Bernard allocates moments for Chris Lightcap’s bass, particularly on “That Day” and “Lake Of Greater Remnants,” and for Tim Berne and Ches Smith on “Pond Life” — and what a chatty exchange they have — the leader has set aside ample room for his expositions, none more engaging and brilliantly extended than on “Motooz.” And the album with a bounty of shifting themes and varied paces would not have suffered with more of Bernard’s lengthy runs and inventive romps that in a single phrase can conjure Hendrix, McLaughlin and Mary Halvorson.
The real pleasure here is how the singular spins mutate and shape a tableau of sound that may be akin to what is meant by Pond Life where a variety of living things are in concert and at last a reflection of something beautiful, deep and approximating the ripple of notes this talented ensemble exudes.
Pond Life: Poor Man’s Speedball; Type A; Surds; Still Drinkin’; Pond Life; Four Is More; Moving Target; That Day; Motooz; Lake Of Greater Remnants. (40:29)
Personnel: Will Bernard, guitar; Ches Smith, drums; Chris Lightcap, bass; Tim Berne, alto saxophone (4–6, 8); John Medeski, piano, Hammond B-3 organ (1, 2, 4, 6).
Ordering Info: willbernard.com