Even as the music industry has leaned more in recent years towards pigeonholing artists to fit into simple categories, were blessed to have a few visionaries who realize that the spirit of truly great music can't always be so tidy and contained. For years after leaving his seven-year stint with Chick Corea's Elektric and Akoustic bands in the early 90s, Dave Weckl was still best known for his association with the legendary keyboardist. Numerous world tours as a leader, however, combined with eight successful solo recordings, have gone a long way towards establishing the drummer as a world class jazz performer in his own right. Weckl's fifth Stretch Records release Perpetual Motion (SCD-9040-2) lives up to the promise of its kinetic title, reflecting his current ensemble's powerful rhythmic energy and ongoing commitment to melodic invention.
The titles of Weckl's Stretch Records projects have always been sharp indicators of where he's applying his creative drive at any given time. Rhythm of the Soul (SCD9016-2) found him tapping into his lifelong love of R&B and groove music. Synergy (SCD-9022-2) chronicled the wild ensembling of his band at the time, which featured guitarist Buzz Feiten and longtime collaborator and keyboardist Jay Oliver.
Transition (SCD-9032-2) and 2001's The Zone (a double CD package with a CD-ROM featuring new Weckl instructional videos) offered introductions to the new ensemble featuring keyboardist Steve Weingart, saxman Brandon Fields (who joined the fold on Synergy) and bassist Tom Kennedy, a longtime Weckl mainstay.
A true celebration of the success of the new quartet together now officially for two and a half years, Perpetual Motion captures the spirit of the band's on-stage interaction and improvisational spontaneity. "The biggest difference in the music is that fact that since Rhythm of the Soul, everything has been written with the band in mind, to be able to play the music live," says Weckl. "Before, we just wrote whatever we wanted and worried about orchestrating it later. The chemistry of this current unit works because everyone comes from a similar place musically and agrees on concepts and approaches. The writing process is a little different on this project in that Steve and I, crunched for time, wrote most of the material in a very systematic way, working 12 hours a day. Our writing chemistry is really nice so it works well. Steve and Brandon also contributed as solo writers."
"As usual with my material, the song is important, so there is always a fair amount of structure, melody and form," he continues. "But with the jazz like improvisations, and the mindset to want to incorporate that into the music, there is a lot of playing off each other very naturally. Everyone was learning the material as we went along and some of the parts were layered, with me doing my parts first. Steve and Brandon would do solo sections together so they could play off one another, and Brandon's tune 'Skipper' was done totally live. On the songs with the Jerry Hey horns, we planned ahead of time to record on specific dates. As a producer, my aim was to take even the tracks that were recorded separately and create a sound that sounded totally live. It sounds live to me and gives off the energy all of us bring to the group."
The whirlwind of Perpetual Motion begins with Weckl's funky, aggressive drum intro on 'Double Up,' which leads to a bona fide live jam featuring Field's fiery sax, Kennedy's bass throb, Weingart's lively keyboard riffs (including a Fender Rhodes section) and exciting brass flourishes. 'Child's Play' shows some of the band's global-minded leanings, opening with a small kids' choir and African chanting and delving into a mix of tight jazz fusion and jungly exotica. Weingart's 'Mesmer-Eyes' has a simliar tribal flavor, with synth vibes, sparse percussion, moody bassline and later staccato sax bursts. The light swinging, moody soul number 'Skipper' is a true showcase for Fields' incomparable sax virtuosity, while also featuring some of Weckl's own wild hi-hat and drum fills.
With its distinctive Japanese elements and cool ambiance, Weingart's romantic and lyrical 'Oasis' seems inspired by the group's various outings in the Far East. The scorching, brassy seven minute plus barnburner '7th Sense' touches on Weckl's love for Latin music, while 'Overdrive' keeps the intensity flowing in a locomotive blast of frenetic insanity, Weingart's combination of spacey synth sounds and Rhodes chords are a highlight. '12 Acres' is more earthbound, moody, atmospheric and slightly experimental, with a catchy retro soul flavor and catchy hook. 'Slingshot' brings the robust party vibe up another notch with a swinging jam featuring some of Weingart's most passionate solo piano work. 'Beacon' is something of a cool-down tune, the recording's 'smooth jazz' type number led ,by Field's peppy sax, while 'Tiempo de Festival's' crazed percussion intro launches another expansive Latin funkfest centered around a whimsical melody and sizzling horn gusts.
A native of St. Louis and the son of an amateur pianist father, the largely self-taught Weckl snagged his first drum kit at eight years old and never looked back. "I knew by the time I was 12 that I would be playing drums to survive, and there was never really a question for as long as I can remember," he says. "The fantasy of existing and surviving playing music became a reality at a very early age. The inspiration from all the great drummers I listened to in many idioms of music as a youngster provided the fuel for my dedicated practice schedule, which remained relentless through my college years and even today."
Inspired by everyone from James Brown to Buddy Rich, he attended the University of Bridgeport as a jazz major far less than two years before the New York jazz scene and several European tours solidified his life's musical calling. While playing with a popular fusion band called Nitesprite (named, ironically, after a Chick Corea tune), Weckl caught the attention of famed fellow drummer Peter Erskine, who recommended the young musician for a spot with French Toast, a hot New York band featuring pianist Michel Camilo (with whom Weckl would tour years later) and bassist Anthony Jackson. In the early 80s, Weckl was able to indulge in the two loves of his musica! life, soul and jazz, in addition to pop, as a touring and session drummer extraordinaire.
He played the Simon and Garfunkel reunion tour in 1983, then scored studio dates with superstars like Diana Ross, George Benson, and Madonna. He balanced these with jazz gigs alongside former Return to Forever guitarist Bill Connors, as well as the Brecker Brothers, Tania Maria, Eliane Elias and Paquito D'Rivera. Playing with Connors and Tom Kennedy one night in New York, Weckl was snatched up by Chick Corea, who was in the process of putting together his Elektric Band. Weckl's albums with Corea include The Chick Corea Elektric Band, Light Years, GRP Super Live, Eye of the Beholder, Inside Out and Beneath the Mask, as well as the Akoustic Band and the Akoustic Band Live. Weckl's reputation eventually allowed him to venture into the instructional audio and video ends of the business; he has released a handful of instructional tapes, some on his own and two with percussionist Walfredo Reyes, Sr. Most recently, Carl Fisher Pub. released a series of three Weckl videos in a series called 'A Natural Evolution.'
In addition to his three solo albums on GRP during these years, Weckl kept the rhythm section grounded on various studio and live dates with the acclaimed GRP All-Star Big Band. Post Elektric Band, Weckl has toured extensively and done high profile studio dates with old friends such as Mike Stern (European, Australian and domestic tours, as well as the guitarist's Between the Lines album), Steve Khan, Eliane Elias, Michel Camilo and the Brecker Brothers.
"l've dedicated these past few years to the continuation of my current band, because we are one of the few bands of this kind out there, bringing this kind of music to the people," he says. "I always think of this band as not a drummer's band. Most of the fun I have is playing in the band roll, behind the soloist, making the groove happen or catching the hits with the horns. To still be arotind, winning readers polls of drums magazines after 17 years in the business, is inspiring and keeps me going. I also love being able to contribute to the drum world with the new videos, clinics and seminars. I just enjoy being out there, playing all over the world, and with every new experience, I feel I'm in pursuit of the next level of musical playing ability."
Stretch Records Discography:
Perpetual Motion SCD-9040-2
The Zone SCD-9037-2
Rhythm of the Soul SCD-901 6-2
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