Gil Bernal

(Writing about Gil Bernal, from 2009. Sometimes if it was a slow week, not much to write about, I could give a couple hundred words to someone I dug in particular. I’d just seen Gil and he nailed me, the night, vibe, tone and feel were so on, and it came out in the next week’s column. Somewhere I have the email I got from him afterward. It was cool when you’re inspired by someone enough to stretch like this which in turn inspires them even more. It’s a rare thing when jazz and words come together like that, each feeding off the other, on the same plane, in the same groove, that primordial space where music and language both evolved, making people people.)

We’ve also got to pick Gil Bernal at the Café 322 on Friday. Sure it’s not his quintet, just a loungy trio (with drummer Billy Paul sounding nice as usual), and Gil sings some for the folks, but when he picks up that horn and blows it takes you back.  Not the chops so much as the sound, a big fat tone, pure, solid. No one plays like that anymore, that Lester Young thing, or that Dexter Gordon sound from those later European releases when Dex was stoned 24/7 and anyone stoned 24/7 would pick up some of that Prez feel…but jazz musicians don’t stay high all day and all night anymore, and that languid bluesy muscular ever so sad vibe is gone, such a shame. But they live longer and play a lot longer, so you get a cat like Gil Bernal blowing strong into his 80’s. But sometimes you long for that old sound, rooted in the time before be bop, more relaxed, more easy, less notes, more feel, maybe, when a man could hit the stage at eleven and play till dawn almost, when there was so much more time for solos to work themselves out  and what’s the hurry? Gil Bernal’s sound has some of that. He leans back on the stool and eases a blues out of the horn and lets it flow, the band stepping back, the thing wafting through the room, filling it, and the jazzbo’s in the joint just freeze. The bartender pours you another Jamesons. Damn a reefer would go good right now. Someone says something but you don’t hear it. You don’t hear any words at all. All you hear is that horn.

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