Bernie Worrell, Blackbyrd McKnight, Melvin Gibbs, JT Lewis
With all the cross-pollination, feverish stabs at greatness and straight-up reunion-itis going on in live music these days, it seems like the word "supergroup"—a term once reserved for the privileged few who could run the gauntlet of critical scrutiny (not to mention rabid fandom) and actually take us all higher—gets thrown around with astonishing regularity. Two bands break up, and suddenly a new supergroup takes their place, or a few heavy-duty session players pool their chips, and a supergroup is born. Meanwhile, the giants of the past—Cream, the Police, Led Zeppelin, even Return To Forever—have been hitting the stage like it's the 1970s, or thereabouts, all over again.
But here's the thing: how many artists can say they were in on the ground floor of an honest-to-Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame supergroup, all while inventing a completely original and uncanny sound and, in the ensuing years, building a legendary reputation as one of the most versatile hired guns in the music business? Bernie Worrell is just such an artist—first as a founding member and driving musical force behind Parliament-Funkadelic, and later as an essential collaborator on key albums by Talking Heads, the Pretenders, Keith Richards, Ginger Baker, Bootsy Collins, Buckethead, Yoko Ono, Bill Laswell, Public Image Ltd., Sly & Robbie, Dave Stewart, Nona Hendryx, Maceo Parker, Dee-Lite, Mos Def…the list goes on and on.
Not only is Worrell a child prodigy on piano, but he's also a master of the Moog synthesizer—so noted by the instrument's inventor, Bob Moog himself, as well as the foundation that bears Moog's name: Worrell is the 2008 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award known simply as "The Bob." And it doesn't stop there: the Hammond B3 organ, Hohner Clavinet, Fender Rhodes and a wealth of keyboards, synths and assorted melodic gizmos all signify the breadth of Worrell's expressive genius as a musician—an unbridled wizardry that's matched only by his will to keep pushing the music to its very limits.
Worrell's latest move has been to found a new supergroup of his own, bringing a kindred P-Funk innovator together with two fellow travelers whose instinctive paths in rhythm are a well-known quantity in jazz, funk, rock, avant-garde and world music circles here in the U.S. and abroad. SociaLybrium, as the name implies, is meant to foster a meeting of the minds—a shared space where four high-caliber musicians can create together on equal footing, but also where the audience is encouraged to join in the action, whether on the dance floor, at the bar, in the street or just plain out to lunch. This is free-spirited American music with an eye on the future—a collective weapon of mass construction intent on inspiring connections, ideas, themes and dreams that are all positive in scope and groovacious in scale. On stage or in the studio, SociaLybrium is a genre-defying but tightly woven unit that can get down in any style, at any given moment.
Blackbyd McKnight (guitar, vocals) is beloved among P-Funk fans for his stalwart contribution to George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars as the group's longtime Musical Director – a torch that was passed to him by Bernie Worrell way back in 1980. Known for his fluid solos and locked-in rhythm chops Blackbyrd draws some of his multi-hued inspiration from the work of guitar heroes like Jimi Hendryx and Eddie Hazel, but since the start of his career, he has also cast his lot with some serious jazz heavies, including Charles Lloyd, Sonny Rolls, Herbie Hancock and other members of the Headhunters. Over the last two decades, he has recorded or performed with Warren Zevon, The Red Hot Chili Peppers Amp Fiddler, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bill Laswell, Macy Gray, Bootsy Collins and many more.
Lauded by Time Out New York as "the best bassist in the world," Melvin Gibbs is a respected veteran of the New York music scene, having contributed his singular talents as musician, songwriter and producer to a wide range of major artists. From Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society to Bill Frisell's Power Tools to the Henry Rollins Band, Gibbs has appeared on close to 200 albums to date and has won widespread industry acclaim, including a Grammy nomination (for the 1994 Rollins Band single "Liar") and a year-end Top 10 nod from Entertainment Weekly (for the 1991 eponymous debut of his band Eye and I). As reviewed in the New York Times, his latest album Ancients Speak, with Elevated Entity, "...conveys a thrilling sense of cultural collision."
Having anchored the kit for everyone from Lou Reed to Vanessa Williams, JT Lewis has emerged as one of the most sought-after drummers of the last 25 years. He is known for his open and energetic approach to any musical style, and has mixed it up with a lengthy and diverse list of artists that includes Sting, Jack Bruce, Debbie Harry, Elvis Costello, Henry Threadgill, David Murray, Butch Morris and dozens more.