Socialibrium finds its groove in Aspen
January 9, 2009
ASPEN ” It didn’t take long for Socialibrium to find its groove. In just its third show ever, Thursday night at Belly Up Aspen, the quartet was roaring on all cylinders ” playing cohesively, and connecting with one another and with the audience without hesitation or strain.
Of course, the musicians have been at this awhile. Though the band is new, the players are not: Keyboardist Bernie Worrell, bassist TM Stevens, guitarist Blackbyrd McKnight and drummer Brain have played, together or separately, in such outfits as Primus, P-Funk and Les Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, bands that have specialized in finding a certain kind of groove ” aggressive, off-color, flamboyant.
The show opened with Worrell playing an extended solo keyboard riff, showing off an impressive knack for harmonic structure that comes from jazz and classical styles. For a brief moment, it was possible to envision Socialibrium continuing in that relaxed vein; Worrell’s last local appearance, at Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Labor Day Festival in September, found him playing a relatively calm, quiet groove as a member of Global Noize. But as soon as Worrell finished flashing his technique, the band began to switch gears as Stevens and McKnight warmed up their respective axes. Within a minute, the guitars were blazing, and farewell any thoughts of a deep, contemplative sort of groove. This was full-on funk fire.
From the outset, Worrell seemed to be the mastermind of the group, but his is a quiet presence; he could barely be seen over his stack of keyboards. Playing the opposite role, of showman, was Stevens. He was perfectly suited to the task, wagging his tongue, letting his dreadlocks fly, clowning with the audience and his bandmates.
McKnight channeled his flamboyant energy through his guitar, playing a hammering-on technique usually associated with heavy metal. Brain and Worrell kept mostly out of sight, pouring their energy into the music. Not a problem; Stevens had the entertainment side handled.
Rarely did the band fall into the old cliche of trotting out past glories. P-Funk, Pretenders, Primus were scarcely mentioned; they did riff on P-Funk’s “Take Your Dead Ass Home,” but briefly, and without self-glorification. There were plenty of other glories to spotlight that had to do with Socialibrium, not their old bands. And on this particular night, there was one additional asset: Frequent Aspen visitor Cecil “P-Nut” Daniels, who sat in most of the night, and whose instruments ” synthesized versions of saxophone ” were an ideal complement.
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Opening the show, in their second Belly Up appearance, was Meniskus. A Denver trio, the group uses an unusual instrumental configuration ” violin, nylon-string guitar and drums ” to create a unique sound that touches on U2, Latin beats and punk.