The lucky souls who packed into the downtown Wilmington bistro like sardines were given an education in the essence of funk, blues, jazz, and every other genre their ears could sort out of the carefully woven music of the Fiction Giants and their special guest, funk pioneer Bernie Worrell. It was impressive watching the Wilmington five-piece band work with a seemingly effortless style somewhere between tight and spacy. As one audience member said, “It’s not always about the music, it’s about where it takes you.”
On the slight chance Worrell could fit it into his high-demand schedule, Jean Chaine, leader and bassist of the Fiction Giants, asked the funk pioneer of Parliament Funkadelic fame to come play with his band of local artists. Worrell fit right in with Chaine’s style, busting out covers from Sly and the Family Stone’s “In Time,” to Miles Davis’ “Black Satin.” The band split their set between playing original funk, space-rock instrumentals, and a number of carefully selected covers.
Chaine’s style is hard to explain, but it has a way of filling up the smallest spaces, each fret of his bass getting slapped, plucked, and strummed as he struts and contorts along with whatever he plays, sweating through his shirt two songs into the first set. The high energy was there all night, even for Worrell who, at 68, has been playing since his classically-trained boyhood. Not enough can be said about the sound created by the bands’ guitarists Colby Dix and Aaron Chesley. Like any great guitar tandem, they weave their styles into each other’s frets, standing across pedal stations from each other, trading solos, and transforming the landscape of each tune.
The night was divided into two shows: 8 to 10 pm for all ages, and 10 to 12 pm for the 21-and-up crowd. While the set list didn’t stray too far for each show, it couldn’t have mattered less. The improvisational freedom given each of the band members on originals meant no song was played the same way twice. Worrell took one look at the charts written out for him by Chaine for these songs and never looked back, working between the D6 Clavinet, a keyboard, and, ah yes, the Moog synthesizer.
Each set began with an energetic blast as Chaine led his band through “Barbary Coast” by Weather Report and the bass lines of his idol Jaco Pastorius. The band continued to blaze through originals including “Two Sides, One Face,” an obvious crowd favorite, and why not. Dix, hunched over, hair hanging over his face and guitar hanging next to the floor, absolutely screamed out a solo as Worrell pumped out his indescribable layers that one could spend hours listening to. Worrell is the timeless pioneer, the developer, and the godfather of the modern keyboard sound, and for one night he was all Wilmington’s.
Peter Miles was invited on stage to sing “In Time” over Worrell’s organ, followed by two space-funk jams featuring Chesley on what Chaine refers to as the “space guitar,” pulling sounds out of the pedal station at his feet, while employing a slide on his strings. Dix and Chesley worked their guitar trance over Chaine, Worrell, and a percussion section consisting of Gary Henry on electric drum pad and Doug Raneri on a four-piece kit. The rhythm section played a consistent collection of grooves all night, building at the right moments, and taking drum spotlights when given the green light to let the crowd, as Dix explained, “feel the groove.”
The highlight of the evening was the first set encore featuring Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” which Worrell plays with his Bernie Worrell Orchestra. It took off, and never landed, Worrell taking an extended solo on his Moog, the band meeting him at all the stops.
Worrell brought the band into an impromptu transformation, finding a spot to tease the intro to Bill Withers “Use Me.”
The rest of the band’s eyes lit up, and in a matter of seconds they had worked out their parts, with Miles still in the house to once again belt out some soul. There’s no better example of explaining music as a language than to see a band of six guys and a guest singer put together a 10-minute soul classic in a matter of 10 seconds.
There was sheer amazement and joy in the faces of the band, watching Worrell bring the funk all over their style.
Over the rousing screams from the crowd Dix asked everyone to give it up for Worrell. “Show this man all your love, because everything this man has played is filled with joy.”
In case you missed Thursday’s show, the Fiction Giants play every Thursday night at Apres Vous, and while Bernie Worrell doesn’t join them every week, keep your fingers crossed for the future.