The sound of the band SociaLybrium is just exactly what I imagine it would sound like if keyboard funkmaster Bernie Worrell played all the instruments himself.
I’m serious: graft a bunch more arms and legs on the man – with everything answering to that groovemonster brain – and this is what the result would be. Worrell’s three bandmates in SociaLybrium – bassist Melvin Gibbs, drummer J.T. Lewis, and guitarist Blackbyrd McKnight – are perfect formation flyers when it comes to brain-syncing with Worrell and their debut album For You – For Us – For All is proof. A portion of that musical ESP could be attributed to some history: Worrell and McKnight were fellow space travelers in Parliament-Funkadelic three decades or so ago, but … then was then and now is now. And how do you explain Gibbs and Lewis? The fact is, you can’t; the individual parts of SociaLybrium add up to one big chunk of jazzy fusion funk and that’s all you need to know.
Right off the bat, “Swamp” is a seven-minute-plus sampler of what this band is all about: big ol’ crashing full-band intro and establishing of the central melody, then some classic Worrell piano over a foundation of groove. Back to the main theme, then a little synth flash by Worrell, ushering in McKnight who goes absolutely apeshit for the final third of the song – bringing everything to a smoldering, sweating shudder seconds before the song ends. (You may want to pause the CD and get your breath before continuing any further.)
Gibbs and Lewis are a rhythm force to be reckoned with, be it the bass ‘n’ drums dinosaur dance of “Glory Story” (they turn into Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker at the 3:00 mark beneath McKnight’s wild-ass soloing) or the vertebrae-thumping wump of “Rockin’ Uptown”.
Worrell, who will be 66 this April, is still cranking out the grooves and changes like he’s just getting started … and in a sense, he is with SociaLybrium. This isn’t “Bernie and some funky guys” – this is a band of explorers. The music on For You – For Us – For All goes beyond the deep grooves; there are mini-mind epics all through this thing. Consider “Another Day”, which starts out sounding like the dreamy theme song to a sci-fi love story. Once Worrell establishes the melodic territory, he lets McKnight loose to scout out all dimensions of it – which he does ferociously, with great charges up the neck and savage nosedives on the whammy bar. McKnight reports back to base and Worrell takes over again, letting things glide down and mellow a bit. Pay attention: somehow everything gently morphs into extra-terrestrial reggae before it’s over. “How did they do that?” you may ask. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, actually: with Bernie Worrell at the helm there are no sonic borders.
The scariest moment on the album isn’t the closer “Over There” with its ominous lurching melody in the foreground and synthgoblin mutterings underneath – oh no. Far more frightening is the cut that precedes it, “Momma Told Me”. At first, you’re convinced that some weird reality blip has landed you right smack dab in the middle of an 80’s sitcom and Tony Danza is about to leap right over the back of the sofa into your lap. But just when you’ve given up all hope, ol’ Bernie saves the day with some way-cool Monkish right hand work – little flutters, perfect pauses, and just-right single notes that are totally in the moment. (And then, of course, everything gets funky at the fade. It’s a happy ending.)
For You – For Us – For All isn’t just a great Bernie Worrell album – it’s a great band album by SociaLybrium. Mmmmm … let that thing groove.