You can check the album out (beginning 9/20/23) at the WURK Bandcamp page.
Wurk’s Madison release event for (r)evolution is at the High Noon Saloon on October 21st.
They’ll also be celebrating the release at these venues:
Saturday, October 28 – Goodview, MN – The Bar
Saturday, November 4 – La Crosse – The Main (as part of Mid West Music Fest)
Friday, November 10 – West Allis, WI – Ope! Brewing Co. (with Kid Elephant, Running Moses)
Saturday, November 11 – Appleton, WI – Appleton Beer Factory (with Michael Darling Band)
Friday, December 1 – Mackey’s Hideout · McHenry
Madison sure has its share of great bands that feature horn sections. WURK has to be the funkiest of them all. They have been consistently good and although the lineup has been stable for a while, there have been some changes recently. (r)evolution celebrates the evolution of the band in a classy way with the departed members returning for the album release tour. Not the norm but there is not a lot about WURK that fits into any norm – in the best possible way. (r)evolution’s first six tracks were recorded at Paradyme Productions with Jake Johnson and features the lineup that recorded most all of WURK’s music up to this point, in some iteration. Both keyboardists have since left the group; Ryley Buchanan 2021 and Miles Morkri in 2022. Two live covers and one live re-working of “Maksimum” from the first album in 2017 spotlight new keyboardist Brandon Jensen.
WURK’s songs have progressive structure; there are no overt verse-chorus constructs. The underlying foundation is heavy, grooving funk. There are plenty of jazz chordal motifs, R&B/soul in the vocals and rocking guitars. They have a jam-band vibe with a strong fan base. The horns are top-notch. Not to make a dated comparison but they are reminiscent of early Chicago in many ways: multiple writers, multiple singers that each have a distinctive flavor, the jazz-rock groove, sizzling guitar solos and chunky chording, and – of course – the horns. Keyboards set them apart with synthesizers, Rhodes-like electric piano and a keytar. In this way they veer into jazz-fusion. There is a lot to like.
“Ignition,” released as a single and the Song of Year in the 2022 MAMA Awards, starts things off fittingly. Staggered bursts over a clicking guitar simulate an engine turning over. The band hums to life in spectacular fashion with Casey Seymour’s thundering bass (remarkable throughout) and a solid groove from Max Morkri on drums. From the Bandcamp page: “’Ignition’ was written during the election of 2020. The song reflects the lack of empathy that federally elected officials have towards their citizens and the frustration we felt at the system of capitalism as a whole. The lyrics are filled with visceral and evocative imagery. The band grooves on a steady quarter note pulse like a beating heart. From the instruments to the lyrics, this song is a hammer.” Miles Morkri’s higher-register vocals amplify the message while Daniel Haschke delivers a smoking hot sax solo in a beautiful instrumental departure.
“Tide” is a standout, a signature riff giving way to a vocal section before it careens into a keyboard dominated, fusion instrumental that builds to a ferocious climax, a frequent element in WURK’s music and especially in performance. Another great instrumental break has Haschke and trumpeter Carl Hipenbecker trading licks building to yet another frenzied height before stopping on a dime.
“Analog” follows and is the pinnacle of funk grooves. Written by bassist Casey Seymour, it has a retro groove that recalls 70s disco. But it wouldn’t be WURK if it didn’t explore every possible wrinkle they could throw at it, dropping into an extended space-funk synth section before Haschke takes over and sends it to the next galaxy in magnificent fashion.
“Embers” was released as a single in July. Music is by guitarist Frank Laufenberg who sings lyrics written by Shawn Koval. This one has a Latin flavor but there are several twists. No one navigates these left-field bursts like WURK. Their creativity is on another level. This was the last track recorded by the 2019 lineup and is another really cool tune.
Laufenberg also wrote “Coffee and Cream” which has a few references to Major Tom from Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” A bit quirky, it launches into an ostinato phrase in the middle. The coda resembles Chicago’s coda from “Beginnings,” building to fever pitch then leaving the listener hanging.
Laufenberg delivers a fantastic guitar solo on “I’m So Tired,” the last of the newly-released originals. Miles Morki’s smooth vocals float over a jazzy chord structure before bursting into a joyous, hard-driving chorus. A trumpet solo gives way to Laufenberg’s angular guitar, using octaves to crescendo.
The first of the three live tracks is a killer. A protest song written by Gene McDaniels and recorded by Roberta Flack, “Compared to What” is sung by Hipenbecker who has a raw and gutsy delivery. New keyboardist Brandon Jensen is highlighted and there is a raucous bass solo from Seymour. Laufenberg takes over vocals in the coda which switches things up considerably.
Chaka Khan’s “You got the Love” features vocal trio InTone who know how to bring fiery soul. They pair up well with WURK who slide quite comfortably into the groove. Laufemberg and Haschke solo with reckless abandon. “Maksimum” closes out the album from the Driftless Music Festival, Jensen and Laufenberg trading solo spots.
Ambition is something that can propel a group beyond what they are capable of; eventually that becomes the new normal. Apply more determination and that’s where things really start to get interesting. WURK has so many chops it is astounding that they all ended up in the same band, even if they did grow up together. See them live – they love what they do – and it is a joyous occasion. Personnel changes are bound to happen in most groups but this will not hamper WURK. There is far too much space left to explore.