When you think of 70s keyboard heroes who manned giant stacks of futuristic keyboards and synthesizers while mixing their jazz and classical training with the rock and RnB sounds of the day, names like Chick Corea, Keith Emerson and Herbie Hancock all come to mind. No doubt those were the names that topped all the keyboard player polls year after year back then, but there was another artist who did all the same things, but his name slipped under the radar, and that keyboardist is the ultra creative Bernie Worrell. Possibly because Bernie worked behind the huge shadows of larger than life characters like George Clinton and Bootsie Collins, in the various P-funk ensembles (Parliament, Funkadelic etc), that Bernie did not get the notice he deserved. Still, if you listen to those old P-funk tracks, no one contributes more than Bernie, and P-funk’s hugely elaborate arrangements would not have been possible without someone with Bernie’s training and classical background.
After leaving P-funk, Bernie has continued to work as a sideman with artists like Bill Laswell, Buckethead, various Talking Heads, Govt Mule, Les Claypool and others in the jam band scene. Worrell occasionally records as a leader, but he still does not grab a lot of attention, maybe its because his albums as a leader are not as strong as his contributions as a sideman. His latest release, “Retrospectives”, may be a good example of this. The premise behind “Retrospectives” sounds very promising at first, basically this is an album on which Bernie re-visits some of his favorite P-funk tracks and records instrumental versions of those tracks. To any long time Worrell and P-funk fan this is an exciting idea, but unfortunately the album does not come through as strongly as you wish it could. Some tracks are okay, but others are fairly lackluster.
Probably the biggest problem with this album is that it sounds like Worrell covered everything by himself. The drum tracks are not strong, nor is the production. An over reliance on ‘silly’ synthesizer sounds from the exotica era also becomes tedious and overbearing after a while. Many of these songs could use a little breathing room from all the persistent synthesizers. Overall this album sounds like a fun hobby home project, not the keyboard powerhouse it could have been. Possibly Worrell could get a good producer like Bill Laswell involved, and a real drummer, and these tracks could get a better life.
Despite the problems, there are some good tracks on here, “You Hit the Nail on the Head” is played reggae style with a melodica lead, and perennial favorite, “Flashlight”, is cloaked in string synth arrangements that Beethoven would be proud of. Possibly the two strongest tracks come at the end with “Balance” featuring a stronger drum sound and less synth clutter and “The Moment”, a punchy Prince style synth-rocker with the best production on the whole album. There are enough good moments on “Retrospectives” to make it worthwhile to Bernie Worrell fans, but you have to wonder what this would have sounded like if more time had been taken.