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Paul Wertico's Mid-East/Mid-West Alliance - Live From Space DVD
Wertico/Marbin's 'Live From Space' DVD charts new, weird territory
"All five of us are leading and following at the same time. We're just having fun." -Paul Wertico, drummer, of his new Mid-East/Mid-West Alliance quintet
"Having spent some time with the album, one has to admit there is a lot more hidden there than just what an initial listen may offer. There are some very complicated things going on within this album. Some on the outside and some completely buried." -69 Faces of Rock, of the Alliance's improvisational debut CD, Impressions Of A City
Jazz-rock drummer Paul Wertico doesn't like to play by the rules. In fact, he's known world-wide as kind of a mad man, prone to flights of fancy and spontaneous acts of pure, in-the-moment collaboration, always seeking out new, creative and wacky directions.
Marbin (Danny Markovitch-sax and Dani Rabin-guitar) is a fairly new, young band from Israel, fond of combining sonic textures through their music, to go deeper than entertainment and the sharing of an exotic cultural influence. Their self-titled debut CD put them in the spotlight as cutting-edge ambient-jazz artists able to create moods and haunt dreams.
It seems natural then that these two forces would eventually meet, spark inspiration off one another and produce their Impressions Of A City CD in two fateful, totally improvised and unedited June 2009 sessions. And then subsequently, come out with a live DVD recording inspired by that CD's release in a November 21, 2009, Evanston, IL concert, "Live From Space."
Chicago musician Wertico described the CD to All About Jazz writer Cicily Janus as a blend of various musical elements, from jazz and rock to classical and ethnic. "There are even loose characteristics of very early jazz music, where everyone's improvising at the same time, mixed in with avant-garde elements... alongside harmonic rhythms that move all around," he said.
The combined new band of Wertico, guitarist John Moulder, bassist Brian Peters, Rabin and Markovitch - known as Paul Wertico's Mid-East/Mid-West Alliance - has already received tons of press for their risky, pioneering and arguably ground-breaking efforts in the 18-track Impressions Of A City CD:
- "Both impressionistic and (especially) expressionistic, what makes the music work is not only that Wertico is not content to just 'play it straight' as a drummer but that his skills as a conceptualist/leader may be even greater, helping to create a compelling, and not altogether scattershot series of musical surprises." -John Ephland, Downbeat, March 2010
- "Weird electronic effects, straight-ahead jazz, scorching blues, rock-tinged guitar wails, ambient sounds of the city - it's all there on the CD... the CD unfolds with a grandeur and over-arching shape that would lead you to conclude vast amount of planning had gone into it... [That the album was completely improvised] helps explain the vitality and spontaneity of the recording but not its high degree of instrumental detail or its sense of cascading climaxes and resolutions. In effect, Impressions of a City captures the frenetic, too-many-things-happening-at-once sense of an urban metropolis, expressed in the language of jazz and its many off-shoots... a rare combination of jazz tradition and anything-goes experimentation. The miracle is that the two fuse so easily in a recording that spans 18 tracks but unfolds as if it's one, rip-roaring epic." -Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune, November 2009
- "One of the most experimental acoustic drummers around, the former Pat Metheny backer offers 18 tenuously linked tracks of bleating sax, knotty guitar, boffo synths, and sundry rhythmic statements... Multiple music voices are accompanied by freer-than-free rhythms that nonetheless feel deliberate and coolly measured. Sometimes beautiful, other times tense or just plain spooky, Impressions of a City ought to go some way toward correcting the dubious reputation of avant-garde music." -Drum! Magazine, January 2010
- "... a soundtrack waiting for a film... This is the soundtrack I suspect Hieronymus Bosch would have written had he been a modern composer watching the news... Despite the sometimes nightmarish and chaotic nature, the level of musicianship never ceases to attain a high level. Moulder and Rabin handle the guitars with exuberance, Markovitch soars on saxes, while Wertico himself plays at times like a dervish possessed by his own personal demons looking to break free... Peters provides some chewy bass, synths, violin and an assortment of unusual instruments and sounds, while Rabin's loops and sounds also add layers of texture to the overall atmosphere. Haunting and memorable, Impressions of a City is an engaging musical experiment and one that is highly unique." -Brad Walseth, JazzChicago.net, November 2009
As a follow-up to the CD's successful release, the Live From Space DVD recording serves to showcase the Alliance's improvisational chops straight out of the gate. Everything they do in the first 43 minutes is done on the fly, as they go along, picking up on interesting notes, seeing where the music leads them, and bringing back familiar refrain from Impressions Of A City and even, to some extent, Marbin's debut CD. By the time the second half rolls along, it's Wertico's deal, as the seven-time Grammy winner goes over some of his trio's classics, with Marbin's team tagging ably along.
For the DVD's one hour and 30 minutes, Paul Wertico's Mid-East/Mid-West Alliance definitely goes everywhere, bringing in every musical element, style, influence and whimsy. For the easy-pop listener and some straight-ahead, hardcore jazzophiles, the music's hard to get into and understand. This music requires many, many listens; each time, there's a new revelation to reward the patient and open-minded. Promise.
Normally, the ear listens for and craves form, structure, a repeatable melody and theme, with variation. Yet it's the depth, breadth and unpredictable movement of this band's variations that can be a challenge to sort through, especially on the first attempt.
The challenging opening segment diverges from a typical path, dives right into a constantly moving, viscously textured series of moments that evoke emotions and images, of the CD's city scape - and whatever happens to come into your mind at the time you're watching the DVD. Live From Space (and Impressions Of A City) are about as avant-garde and experimental as one can get.
Oftentimes, the music threatens to fall apart into chaotic noise, everybody throwing in as many random notes as possible, trying to fill space with quantity, sound for sound's sake. That it doesn't is credit to the players, who know what they're doing and know how to really listen to each other, before playing off interesting tangles of riffed notes, untangling some of the meaning.
But it's hard to get into at first. If you can get past the sophomoric need to dance to a particular rhythm, bang your head to a particular guitar solo, or simply sway to an orchestral backbeat (you get those, but there's always more at play), Live From Space is a fantastic show.
It's all too common to want to pin this group down as either fusion this or fusion that. But they don't let you go too far with labels. Just when they start going down a jazz-rock territory, the whole thing disintegrates and rebuilds into a heavy, dreamy mood piece, where nothing is clear. If you let it, Live From Space will simultaneously free and mess with your mind, for days afterward. (The dreams I had, of government officials in three-piece suits renovating custom developments during an earthquake in Arizona, were... Oh boy.)
This DVD would be pretty boring if it was one camera aimed at the stage. Luckily, there are several cameras that move around, zoom in, as colors change from blue to sepia tones, to b/w and back again, depending on mood. When the band hits on particularly exotic exchanges, the camera crew will dilute the focus, turn their lenses, and shake the picture a bit. They also include shots of their diverse audience, youngsters, an elderly, gray-haired lady bobbing her head - to reflect the band's universal appeal.
Live From Space's DVD opening appears to be pure Marbin, replete with a sense of 1940s spy movie throughout much of their debut CD. Jazz drummer Paul Wertico hangs back, listening, accenting the mood music with soft brush strokes, heightening a Middle Eastern ashram/synagogue effect.
Marbin's Dani Rabin picks up and runs with a mesmerizing lick on his guitar, evoking yoga, incense and swaying palms in an India shoreline. The rest of the band follows suit, elaborating on the guitar lick. Wertico patterns his drum beats to sync up and harmonize with Rabin's guitar lick, going in fast, like a percussive shadow. Rabin takes full advantage of his chance to play light against dark in a fabulous guitar solo. Later on, trace elements of an ambulance going by sound out, as Wertico pulls back as if by sheer force of will, easing up on the pounding, his face contorting with the effort, eyes closed in ecstasy or pain.
In what might be described as eerie ambient-jazz, Wertico and Brian Peters (on bass, Duduk, electronics) replicate what sounds exactly to me like a helicopter about to land. This could've been a train wreck. But it's right up Marbin's alley. With initial hesitation on where to come in, eventually Rabin and sax guy Danny Markovitch do - but later. When Wertico's on fire, it's best to wait.
My absolute favorite part comes in after, when Wertico drives a rockin' beat on drums while Rabin wails on the guitar, Peters' fingers fly on bass and Markovitch pulls out the strangest sounds from his miniaturized sax that remind me of the 1962-63 cartoon, The Jetsons, mixed in with another 1960s children's classic, Batman (with a little Bewitched). Markovitch and Wertico's guitarist, John Moulder, go back and forth, talking with each other in Jetson-speak. Or, if you remember the CD the band's doing this show for, it's totally a musical picture of workers leaving their offices to board subways and cars for home. And all of this would fall under ambient-jazz, yet it succeeds as a distinct musical jazz piece with ever-evolving, complex, and out-there variations.
The DVD isn't just about the music. At one point, smoke begins emanating from behind the drum kit. The audience laughs as Wertico glances behind him and at bassist Peters, both of them grinning in that happily quizzical way.
Wertico and his normal trio (John Moulder and Brian Peters) take over the second half, featuring original compositions from their songbook. But in this DVD, they're performing the compositions with Marbin's Danny Markovitch and Dani Rabin adding to the layers.
There's a section for pure Wertico fans, when he starts busting out the percussive works, from skins, to bells, to conga, to a tambourine sitting on top of a metal stick, going up and down, and feeling out each and every sound there is, throwing in Latin, African, New Orleans swampy styles along the way. Genius. At one point, he's playing almost everything at once, at the speed of light - and it's making a strange rhythmic kind of sense. The other members of the newfound band have no other choice but to stand around and gawk appreciatively. It's speed, time, tempo, severity and agility, wrapped up in the wonder that is Wertico.
Right after Wertico's drum solo is, perhaps, the most cohesive, comprehensive jazzy composition - a mix of Level 42 and Cream. This is where Marbin's musicianship really stands out. They show they can do more than set the mood. They can keep up with one of the greatest jazz-rock bands - Paul Wertico Trio - in the world, note for note. Markovitch plays his sax like the late Michael Brecker, with a fullness and masterful command up and down and around the notes. They play the piece mostly straight, no deviations into sound-driven whimsy; it's less about the sounds they're trying to shape into a kind of musical mood, and more about the notes they're playing with a discernible beginning, middle and end. Wertico's Latin style drumming show off in expert rolls. The bassist, Peters, suddenly comes out in a grooving three-measure ending, with excellent percussive punctuation.
Paul Wertico's Mid-East/Mid-West Alliance puts on a great show, with an explosion of sound in Live From Space - just like their collaborative CD, Impressions Of A City. More than setting tones, moods, and the stage for future, like-minded experimentation (another Marbin/Wertico CD is coming up next, in mid-June), these talented musicians have managed to also push the limits of what jazz can be, while entertaining a wider form of audience. Definitely check out their live DVD ($12). And listen - a lot.
Jazz Music Examiner rates this: 4 stars
I could never imagine being a professional drummer at age 15, unlike Chicago jazz drummer, Paul Wertico who, I should also mention, is a seven-time Grammy award winner. To be frank, Wertico receives praise up the arse: being voted "Fusion! Drummer of the Year" in the 1997 DRUM! Magazine reader's poll and placed in the top five in the modern day, "Electric Jazz" category in Modern Drummer Magazine's reader's poll in 1997/1998. The Chicago Tribune also named Wertico one of the, "Chicagoans of the Year," in 2004. Besides his accolades, Wertico has played on many modern day jazz classics including his work with the Pat Metheny Group during the 1980s and '90s, up until he left the group in 2001. When not touring, Wertico engages himself in numerous creative activities in the Chicago area and has since played with ethnomusicologist Paul Berliner and KUDU and the Memphis Nighthawks.
Wertico and his new quintet, Paul Wertico's Mid-East/Mid-West Alliance, comprised of Israeli duo Marbin and Chicago's Paul Wertico Trio, recently released a live DVD titled Live From Space. The DVD takes place during the album release party for the band's album, Impressions of a City, and consists of the band's second time playing together (the first was the recording of the album).
The show is presented, visually, in a very professional manner - multiple camera angles accompanied by a fully mixed and mastered multi-track audio recording so every viewer can witness/listen to every note. The show begins with a 43 minute fully improvised, acid-jazz jam session, reminiscent of the album itself. The band then kick into Wertico's back catalog, playing "African Sunset," an eight minute masterpiece followed by a terrific, four minute drum solo from Wertico himself, so viewers can see what all the fuss is about. The latter half of the DVD is a half hour of Wertico's most precious work, ending with the spacious and groovy, "Testament." For Wertico fans, this DVD is a must have, showcasing innovative, finely tuned jazz talent. For new fans of modern jazz, this would be a staple, and a great place to start before your journey backwards.