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Guitarist Will Bernard may be best known for his stints in other folks’ bands, including Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, the Stanton Moore Trio, John Medeski’s Mad Skillet, Charlie Hunter’s T.J. Kirk and Bill Laswell’s Revelator. As Pond Life, his seventh album as a leader, proves, when given his head he’s very much a notable creative force. Teaming up with a remarkably blended batch of creators, including drummer Ches Smith, saxophonist Tim Berne, bassist Chris Lightcap and Medeski, the axeman eschews the funk and soul jazz underpinnings of much of his work and heads out into the unknown – a space in which his fellow travelers feel exceptionally comfortable. “Four is More,” “Type A” and the King Crimsonesque “Poor Man’s Speedball” inhabit a universe of orchestrated improvisation, staying impressively off-kilter without compromising compositional integrity. Bernard does sometimes lock his comrades into something more easily approachable, as with the textural drama of “Moving Target” or the mantra blues of “Surds.” By the time “Motooz” comes along, Bernard is gleefully combining avant-garde atmospherics with straightforward bop, before following a casually spiraling guitar line through the quietly mesmerizing “Lake of Greater Remnants.” These days the jazz guitar stage is almost overloaded with extraordinary talent, but Bernard clearly has the distinctive vision to stand out from the crowd.
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