Chad Wackerman – Dreams, Nightmares and Improvisations – self-released CWCD-5, 53:19 [2/2012] ***1/2:
(Chad Wackerman – producer, drums, percussion, samples; Allan Holdsworth – guitar (tracks 2-3, 5-6, 8-9, 12, 14), synthaxe (tracks 2, 4, 6), Starr Z-Board (track 8); Jimmy Johnson – bass (tracks 2-9, 11-12, 14); Jim Cox – keyboards (tracks 7, 11, 13))
Jazz fusion fans, and Chad Wackerman enthusiasts in particular, will appreciate Wackerman’s latest foray, the 53-minute, 14-track Dreams, Nightmares and Improvisations. The album was self-released back in February but probably fell under the radar of most potential buyers. It’s a welcome return to familiar territory. This is Wackerman’s first project of all-original material since 2004’s Legs Eleven (and is the artist’s fifth solo record). More importantly, it marks a reunion with consummate collaborator and close friend, guitarist Allan Holdsworth (the two began touring and recording together in 1982). Wackerman and Holdsworth were last heard jointly on Holdsworth’s 2002 live concert record, All Night Wrong. Along with Holdsworth, there are two other long-time Wackerman associates, bassist Jimmy Johnson (who met Wackerman in the early 1980s) and keyboardist Jim Cox (who started working with Wackerman in 1979, when both were in Bill Watrous’ band).
Wackerman and Holdsworth have lengthy resumes. Holdsworth commenced his musical employment in prog-rock outfits such as Soft Machine and Gong, spent a short time in Tony Williams’ Lifetime, guested on recordings by Jean-Luc Ponty, Bill Bruford, Gordon Beck and Jack Bruce and launched his solo career in the late 1970s. After his stint with Watrous, Wackerman was with Frank Zappa from 1981 to that maestro’s passing in 1993, and has done sessions and toured with everyone from James Taylor to former Police guitarist Andy Summers. Despite the star presence presented on Dreams, Nightmares and Improvisations and the possibilities for prolonged jams, generally this is a project of nuances and measured firepower (most tunes hover between three and four minutes, only two get close to seven minutes): while there are moments of combustion, for the most part this an album that uses the form of a slow simmer.
Obviously the tracks where Holdsworth and Wackerman combine their skills and talent are at the forefront. They start off with “A New Day.” The seven minute cut is the longest number, and has an unhurried, snaking arrangement where Holdsworth utilizes both guitar and synthaxe to generate washes of sound and tone with controlled soloing. Wackerman’s rolling cymbals and Johnson’s percolating electric bass provide a steady but never outward bound rhythmic motion. The next lengthiest track is “The Fifth,” which has a similarly deliberate course where cymbals and brush strokes, synthaxe and guitar create an elegant fusion kinesis. There’s not much external activity, although Johnson’s extended bass solo has some subtle authority, as does Holdsworth’s ambient guitar excursion, which evokes fellow travelers such as the aforementioned Summers and a bit of Robert Fripp, specifically when the occasional painterly, auditory impressionism creeps in. During the likeminded “The Billows,” Holdsworth adds the Starr Z-Board to his musical arsenal: the MIDI keyboard controller, which mixes the attributes of guitar and a piano keyboard, gives Holdsworth a few more effects to implement but does not necessarily enliven the arrangement to any marked degree. The quartet noticeably becomes vigorous on the complex “Bent Bayou,” where Wackerman and Johnson lay down an intricate time signature while Holdsworth fits in a heated improvisation which radiates a scorched intensity. Holdsworth also blisters his fretboard on the fractured “Edith Street,” although the tunes’ frontispiece and conclusion are less notable.
Keyboardist Jim Cox is the secondary quartet member on the material sans Holdsworth. He participates on the concentrated fusion amalgam, “Brain Funk,” which is not as funky as the title implies, and in fact Cox’s distorted keys tend to get in the way: there’s a lot more interesting communication which transpires between the drums and bass. A better funk-tinted tumbler is “Two for Ya,” where Cox elicits Stevie Wonder and Bernie Worrell. This time the fuzzy keys take the groove into a prog-party mash-up which works well. Those who insist on unaccompanied drum endeavors get their treat on Wackerman’s solo drum piece, “Rapid Eye Movement,” a master class in drumming squeezed into two and half minutes, where he proves melody is as important as tricky time signatures or a powerhouse percussion attitude. Dreams, Nightmares and Improvisations seems geared more to Wackerman’s rock-oriented audience than general jazz fans, the same listeners who probably also like Bruford’s efforts, King Crimson’s oeuvre and undertakings by jazz-rockers Brand X or the comparably-related ensemble, Tunnels.
TrackList: Glass Lullaby; A New Day; Bent Bayou; Star Gazing; Edith Street; The Fifth; Waterways; The Billows; Monsieur Vintage; Rapid Eye Movement; Brain Funk; A Spontaneous Story; Two for Ya; Invisible.
A dream Johnny Hodges tribute project by Owen Broder…