For Dave Weckl, music, like life, can express all the intensity and excitement of a roller coaster ride. Making his initial splash as a phenomenal first-call drummer in the early 1980s, with artists as diverse as Paul Simon and Michel Camilo, Weckl eventually joined Chick Corea's Elektric and Akoustic Bands. Over their seven-year lifespan, he often collaborated with the renowned keyboardist for some of the most daring improvisational music of the era (Weckl's innovations were a major part of the bands' sound, achieved through his contributions in both the technical and sonic realms). Refining the inspirational drumming of Steve Gadd to profound levels of intricacy, flow and finesse, Weckl was also perhaps the first drummer to focus on sound as much as style. Using his own custom built sound system, sometimes aided by electronics, he redefined the drummer's role in the improvisational unit as no one since.
Not content to simply play sideman, however, Weckl began his journey as a leader with a series of bold, sometimes controversial albums that drew on his work with Camilo and Corea. Infused with unique rhythmic stylization and melodic intensity, his albums were exacting musical statements in their own right. Whether you call it jazz, fusion, funk, or even electric improvisational island music, Weckl's music is breathtakingly alive, a vital sound realized and energized by some of the best musicians in the business.
Now, after such acclaimed albums as Perpetual Motion, Transition, Synergy, and Rhythm of the Soul, the Dave Weckl Band unveils the double CD, Live (And Very Plugged On). With long-time compatriots Steve Weingart on keys and bassist Tom Kennedy (who accompanied Weckl on guitarist Bill Connor's adventurous 1984 recording, Step It), the Dave Weckl Band, with new saxophonist, Gary Meek, lets listeners into their live arena, where improvisation is open ended and ideas are as explosive as plastique.
"For the kind of music we play," says Weckl, "which is jazz inspired in a sense of improv and spontaneity, capturing a live performance in front of an audience is the real deal. This particular recording was done over a six-night period, and although some nights will always be better than others, this band has a good night every night."
Recorded at the Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood in December of 2002, Live (And Very Plugged In) features familiar Weckl fare, as well as a handful of surprise compositions. Fans will recognize songs like "Braziluba," "Wake Up" and "Just for the Record," while Pee Wee Ellis' "The Chicken" and Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning" show what can happen when inspired musicians with scorching skills flame broil two standards of the funk and jazz repertoires. The quartet is joined on the closing "Tiempo De Festival" by a horn section of Jerry Hey (trumpet), Gary Grant (trumpet), Bill Reichenbach (tbone) and former Weckl bandmate, Brandon Fields (tenor sax). The album is a festival, for sure, a contagious slice-of-life glimpse into one of the most exciting bands on the circuit.
Though Live (And Very Plugged In) surges with many ear-prickling, brain and booty-moving performances, Weckl claims no one song is the album's highlight. "Since the objective was to really capture a whole night as we played it [split into two shows, thus 2 CDs]," he says, "there aren't any real higher points than others for me. I just feel the whole documentation is special, because it is LIVE. The songs were chosen only because it is the shows we have been playing the entire year before the recording was made. The selections are from Transition, Perpetual Motion, and a couple of new, previously unrecorded songs as well, not to mention a bass-drum duet with Tom Kennedy, and an extended drum solo. I feel our music to begin with is very accessible to a broad audience as the compositions span a wide variety of styles, a little something for everyone."
Live (And Very Plugged In) opens with the slap-in-the-face profundity of "Wake Up," then glides into the funk of "Braziluba" and "Mezmer-Eyes," which hold a few kernels of Elektric Band style soloing. Steve Weingart's expansive "Oasis" follows. A haunting ballad that finds Weckl ruminating on cymbals and brushes as the keyboardist paints a rich palette of sound, it's a calm moment among the album's many storms (tornadoes is more like it). The multi-textural "Crossing Paths" leads to the sax and drum foray, "Hesitation," and companion funk-fusion piece, "The Chicken," which sizzles with some heated and mind-boggling Weingart-Weckl interplay and a rousing horn shout section.
Slow burner "Toby's Blues" gets Disc 2 off to a comfortable start, followed by the equally simmering swing of "Just for the Record" (which recalls the creeping certainty of the race between the tortoise and the hare). Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning" is a standout track (for this listener), a high velocity, Kennedy-Weckl improv that is stunning for both its control and finesse, as well the requisite power required for such speedball maneuvers. Weckl's solo "Cultural Concurrence" must be heard, not described. Suffice to say, it is a tour de force musical performance. "Tiempo De Festival" closes the album on a joyous, nearly over-the-top note, with the musicians expounding a sense of revelry, purpose, and downright glee. Live (And Very Plugged In) is a complete live performance, both organic and electric.
Dave Weckl has enjoyed massive success as a drummer for hire, as well as the sense of satisfaction that comes from being a contributing member to an extremely popular jazz outfit. Regarding his early days on the New York session scene, Weckl is not sentimental. Like most forward thinking artists, the drummer-leader knows that nostalgia is a trap: "I am very steady working now, but mostly as a leader of my own band, and as an educator with my instructional products. I do work occasionally as a sideman, but I don't have a lot of time for that these days, not that I don't like to do it, because I do! The biggest difference is that I am fairly at peace with who I am as a drummer now, although I am still always looking for the next level, trying to broaden my musical scope."
Weckl has practically made a career out of finding, then surpassing the "next level." With Live (And Very Plugged In), Dave Weckl documents the ongoing evolution of his music while hinting at the levels to come. "I am able to achieve a very comfortable, honest communication through my instrument with absolutely no inhibitions with this group of musicians and the music we play. I am able to write and present the music as I envision it, and I think that is the most gratifying thing for any leader."