Drummer-led ensembles seem to gravitate towards two disparate concepts. First there is the idea of promoting the ensemble and compositions, "music over chops"; leaders including Peter Erskine, Jack DeJohnette and Edward Vesala fit comfortably into this category. On the other hand there are drummers who, while not intending to draw attention away from a group sound, place the drums and technique front and centre. Ralph Peterson and, more specifically, Dave Weckl fall strongly into this camp. This is not to imply anything negative about the second approach; it merely puts the artists and their work into a context. Weckl, with his latest release, Live (And Very Plugged In)
offers up an appealing fusion record that will be of most interest to listeners who are looking for dazzling virtuosity; pyrotechnic instrumental ability is one thing each and every member of this ensemble is capable of, and they deliver it in spades.
With material culled mainly from his last two studio releases, Perpetual Motion
Weckl, with keyboardist Steve Weingart, bassist Tom Kennedy and newcomer Gary Meek on saxophones, went into the Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood just before Christmas of 2002 to show what this now-established band could do in a live situation. The result is a high octane two-CD set that sees Weckl and Kennedy, who have been playing together for over five years now, underpinning a set of material that covers a broad spectrum, from the relatively straight-ahead "Just for the Record" to the Brazilian "Tiempo De Festival" to the fusiony funk of "Wake Up" to the Weather Report-like ballad, "Oasis".
While every member of the band gets a chance to stretch out, this is clearly Weckl and Kennedy’s show. Even during solos by Weingart and Meek, it is the rhythm section which seems to dominate. This is a mixed blessing; Weckl and Kennedy clearly have the chops and ideas to keep things interesting throughout, but a little more sense of space would create a dynamic flow that would allow the listener the chance to breathe. Sometimes one is left with the feeling that there is too much interest in seeing how much can be crammed into small musical spaces.
Still, Live (And Very Plugged In)
captures the Dave Weckl Band in an inspired mood. Meek takes an impassioned soprano solo on "Crossing Paths"; and Weingart and Meek turn up the heat during an extended trade-off on "Mesmer-Eyes". All the while Weckl and Kennedy keep things bubbling underneath.
While a little attention to space would be worthwhile, it is clear that Weckl and his band are developing a chemistry that makes for an exciting band. Fans of high energy fusion could do far worse than spend time with Live (And Very Plugged In)
; the songs are hot; the playing hotter. Weckl is clearly better off with a consistent band than he is doing the "Weckl and Friends" projects that marked the earlier phase of his career. By cultivating a group sound, Weckl is turning into the leader that fans always knew he could be.