Khu.éex’ Feat. Bernie Worrell 4.19.16

Seattle, WA
Nectar Lounge

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)

Bernie Worrell, also known as the Wizard of Woo, is an amazing keyboardist who has been a part of not just one, but two acts that have fundamentally altered the course of music history. He was a founding member of George Clinton’s legendary Parliament-Funkadelic collective, and he also toured with the Talking Heads, notably performing on their renowned concert film, Stop Making Sense. He has been fearless with his implementation of new and different instruments, and this has aided his contributions to some of the best dance music ever recorded.

At the start of 2016, he went public about his struggles with Stage IV lung cancer. This was met with a vast outpouring of sympathy from his many fans, and people began to organize benefits nationwide. In Seattle, Staxx Brothers’ frontman David Michael Stedman’s idea was to gather some of the best local funk musicians to assemble a stacked bill of artists paying tribute to Bernie at Fremont’s Nectar Lounge. As the event grew closer, Bernie announced he was still in good enough health to perform, and that he would be bringing his current band, Khu.éex’, along for the show.

The show also featured sets from Seattle acts Tip to Base, Staxx Brothers, Midday Veil, Eldridge Gravy and the Court Supreme, and Marmalade. Each group treated the audience to a fun set of funk music, with the Staxx Brothers digging deep for an absolutely huge cover of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain,” and Midday Veil dropping a nice cover of the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.”

Bernie and Khu.éex’ took the stage in the middle of the evening, strategically playing to the largest crowd. It was truly a special moment to watch him walk onto Nectar’s stage, and to hear the audience’s great appreciation for all of the music he had given them. The small, elderly gentleman was draped in a vibrant purple coat and hat. He moved slowly, but deliberately, as he walked across the stage. He wore a giant smile on his face, and consistently engaged his audience throughout his performance. During breaks in his playing, he would look down and joke with fans, shaking his finger and laughing with them. His playing is still spot-on, even in spite of his condition. When he gets going on the Moog or organ, it’s a pretty unmistakable sound. As I stood there, I felt so thankful for the chance to see and hear him in this intimate setting. Looking around, I could tell this sentiment was echoed by the other patrons.

Seeing him play with Khu.éex’ was itself a unique experience. This iteration of the group featured a stacked lineup: Bernie, Skerik (saxophone), Stanton Moore (drums), Preston Singletary (bass), Captain Raab (guitar), Gene Tagaban (vocals), Clarissa Rizal (vocals) and Om Jahari (vocals). Their music is amalgamation of jazz, funk and tribal music. The jazz influence can be felt most strongly from Skerik and the rhythm section, while Bernie’s playing constantly makes anything they do sound extra funky.

The vocalists draw heavily on traditional Inuit folk music, which includes a lot of spoken-word sections. This actually mixed really well with the band’s jazz stylings, and gave the set the type of cool, coffee-shop-open-mic vibe that wouldn’t have seen me surprised to see people snapping their fingers after each song. Their music at this show was focused on delivering Bernie some healing energy, something that was made obvious by their mid-set tribal healing ceremony. Here, they draped Bernie in a special blanket, while explaining the use of music to heal in their culture. They referenced Bernie as a great and powerful healer in his own right, and said that it was our turn to help to heal him, as he has helped us all in so many ways through his music.

My favorite part of the set was watching the interactions between Bernie and Skerik, who is well known for his crazy onstage persona. The two clearly had the upmost respect for one another, and they love to joke around together. At one point, Bernie got on the mic and quietly implored the audience to clap louder after a particularly nasty Skerik solo. It was a bit of a sensory overload, watching these two brilliant musicians play off each other, only feet away from me.

It was a delight to see Bernie up close and personal, and quite an inspiration to see him still radiating positivity, in spite of his health issues. Even in his old age, he continues to set an excellent example for the rest of the world to follow. This was an awesome benefit that I am glad to have been a part of, and Seattle did a great job of turning out on a Tuesday to support (and give thanks to) a living legend. As Bernie walked off the stage, we all basked in the look of deep appreciation on his face, a wonderful expression of his decades-long musical connection to his devoted fans.

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