After hearing “‘Nard” the one definitive impression you’ll have is that New York pianist Bernard Wright has a large number of musical influences ranging from Herbie Hancock,George Duke,Lenny White and of course Dave Grusin (his producer) and Miles Davis.But one thing the 16 year old musician does very well is find unique and creative ways of gathering his influences into his own special kind of musical sound.
Released on vinyl in 1981 on GRP “‘Nard” is at it’s core a funk-jazz album,but all that means is that the backup has a rhythmic R&B style over which Wright plays very memorable and often improvised solo’s on his acoustic piano,Fender Rhodes and sometimes the occasional synthesizer.But only on the spiky funk of “Just Chillin’ Out” and “We’re Just The Band” do synths play that big a part.
“Master Rocker”,”Spinnin'”,”Firebolt Hustle” and the jamming “Bread Sandwiches” are all based on a chunky backup of guitars,rhythms and often sudden melodic exchanges,that plus the comically absurd vocals of “Haboglabotribin'” brings up the George Duke connection.The general sound (especially on the one ballad in Weldon Irvine’s “Music Is The Key” showcases Bernard Wright as an artist with a firmly established 1970’s-based sound..
The electronic and glossy sheen of 1980’s style jazz-funk an R&B in general are not to be found in huge doses on ‘Nard’.But thanks I’m sure to poor promotion on GRP’s part this album (and artist in general) have gone almost forgotten until this CD reissue.I brought it only on customer recommendation and I couldn’t be more pleased with what I heard.And despite it’s often hefty price tag ‘Nard’ will be more then worth the investment.I recommend it not only as an ear pleasing guidebook for other aspiring young musicians but to any fan of late 70’s/early 80’s transitional jazz-funk in general.
Originally Posted On November 15th,2004
Link To Original Review Here!
Bernard Wright is probably one of the more significant instrumentalists in terms of my own musical progression. He is not only the first I discovered completely online,but also one of the first that I discovered without any word of mouth recommendation from family,friends,books or magazines. He still doesn’t have the hugest recorded catalog. But he was an important part of the early 80’s Jamaica,Queens jazz/funk scene alongside luminaries such as Lenny White,Tom Browne and the late Weldon Irvine. In addition to that he was also a youth prodigy-still high school age when he released his debut ‘Nard for Dave Grusin’s then fairly new GRP label. This album was my first introduction to Bernard Wright-having been a recommendation on Amazon.com when it was available on CD as a Japanese import. Of the many exciting and lovable grooves on the album was an instrumental called “Bread Sandwiches”.
Starting off with a dramatic piano scale from ‘Nard himself,the song goes into some of the most pleasurable combination of highly melodic and percussive piano playing I’ve ever heard. Wright’s fingers can be clearly heard dancing and bouncing on the keys. During the song he plays a beautifully chorded,phat synthesizer harmony. On the bridge he plays what I’d call a jazz/funk version of stride piano,with a more spacey synthesizer accent. After this,before a break going back to the main theme Mike Flythe,one of two drummers on this album,plays an attention getting marching band type drum solo send off. After another complete round of this,there’s another bridge where in front of a buzzing bass synth bed,Wright plays a more bop style piano solo before the song fades out the same repeated melodic phrase right before Flythe’s drum solo before the second refrain of the song.
Musically speaking? This song brims over with a potent blend of learned instrumental ability and completely youthful enthusiasm of style. Bernard Wright himself is very much the embodiment of,as my blogging partner Henrique and I might describe it,of a super hip young black middle class man who might be driving to a gig where he’d be rehearsing Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk compositions while listening to the funk band Slave on his car stereo. This song is very much in the Crusaders /Stuff/ Steely Dan type studiocentric jazz-funk bands of the mid/late 70’s. And coming out in 1981,it was a very important time because a huge musical transition was occurring in NYC during this period. Hip-hop was beginning to emerge-partly of out the fact that aspiring musicians in Wright’s age group found themselves perhaps unable to have access to musical instruments and good instruction as the music scene was dividing up.
In one sense,”Bread Sandwiches” represents the end of an era. But also would eventually open the door to a new beginning. I have my issues with what some commercial hip-hop has ended up doing conceptually. But during the sample heavy era,it did serve as an important archive for music just like this. The ‘Nard album came out during what Henrique and myself refer to as the post disco radio freeze out. Basically any uptempo,danceable music made by black artists (funk in particular) went unheard and heatedly debated in literature due to the anti disco backlash of 1979. However a decade later? This album,which might’ve been rather unnoticed in its time emerged as being among the many albums whose grooves and breaks become the bedrock for the sampedelic end of the jazz hip-hop sub-genre of the mid 90’s into the early aughts. Today many musicians and funkateers likely celebrate Bernard Wright for his own merits either through hip-hop or the online music world-which is how I discovered him. So especially in the sense of songs such as thing? Progressions in in both music and technology have surely been a good friend to Bernard Wright!