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Will Bernard: Party Hats

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The field of jazz guitarists is brimming these days, and it can be hard to get recognition unless you’re carrying some major ’70s clout. This is why many of us aren’t well acquainted with Will Bernard, an expansive player from the San Francisco Bay Area who’s been churning out various funk, jazz and hip-hop projects since his debut in 1998. His fourth album as a bandleader, Party Hats, finds him waving the downtempo funk flag proudly, leading a solid group of players through 11 original compositions.

Bernard’s choppy funk rhythm kicks off the record’s opening track, “Share the Sea,” which features guitar and horns playing in unison on their way to a cheesy Tonight Show-style refrain. “Leo’s Cat” dabbles in slow, deliberate funk, showcasing Bernard’s keen timing amongst sweet Hammond B3 swells by Wil Blades. “Afro Sheen,” the album’s longest track at almost seven minutes, allows the horn section to stretch out and lets Bernard show off his speed on the fretboard before dropping into a contemplative and catchy groove.

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