MUSIC: Bernie Worrell Orchestra—Rock Royalty in Westerly

Thursday, May 23, 2013


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Leader of the band: the classically trained, irrepressibly funky Bernie Worrell.

The Bernie Worrell Orchestra rocked the house at the Knickerbocker Café Friday – not quite a full house – but a happy one for those in attendance. Worrell is a founding member of seminal funk band Parliament and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s played with numerous other greats, including the Talking Heads, Gov’t Mule, Les Claypool and Buckethead.

Bernie Worrell Orchestra

The Orchestra merges the Classical, Jazz and Funk genres, with elements of New Wave and Rock also in the mix. The Six piece Orchestra is tight – well trained and well rehearsed. Worrell’s keyboard/synthesizer work is legendary.

He brought a message of peace, love, and understanding to Westerly, asking in his opening number “Why can’t we live together, why can’t we move as one?” “So Uptight,” harkened back to the funky 70’s sound that made him famous.  The band really rocked on “Why Spy,” a song co-written by Keith Richards.  It was a high point of the show, with guitarist Andrew Kimball leading an extended psychedelic jam.

Round about midnight, Worrell broke out into a classical piano interlude – he was in fact, a child prodigy, classically trained at Julliard. His stylish Latin Jazz tune, "BWO is Landing," allowed him to really stretch out on keyboards. Later, the band powered through a funky version of the Beatles' "Come Together" and brought down the house with the Talking Heads classic, "Take Me to the River."

The only disappointment of the evening is what was missing – or rather who was missing. The crowd was sparse – less than 50 attended. This is a world-class band – Worell is very much on top of his game – they are worthy of a bigger turnout. But, no fear, you get another chance. Be sure to check them out next month when they return to town – June 15th at the Spot Underground in Providence.

John Fries

Local Blues-Rock favorite John Fries opened the evening. His trio is influenced by Albert King, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and his guitar work approaches the level of these masters. Fries played several originals off his latest album U.S. 50. The band appears frequently around southeastern Connecticut – worth the drive!


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