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Denver Post - December 26, 2000

Wertico Puts Fun In Fusion

by Bret Saunders
Special to The Denver Post

The evidence is in the archives: There was a time when "fusion" was fun and innovative as well. In the '70s, groups like the Tony Williams Lifetime and The Mahavishnu Orchestra melded jazz improvisation with stacks of amplifiers and repetitious, driving rock rhythms to create something dynamic. But as time wore on, the music wore out and became increasingly commercial and less challenging.

Perhaps that's why the music of drummer Paul Wertico seems to be such a surprising anomaly.

"I remember hearing (the Jimi Hendrix LP) 'Are You Experienced?' when I was a teenager," Wertico said. "That music made me feel a kind of joy. A lot of music nowadays is technically proficient but cold, and I wanted to put out a record that wasn't watered down."

He's succeeded with a raw, energy-infused disc, the recent "Don't Be Scared Anymore" (Premonition). What the recording lacks in stylistic consistency it makes up for in unbridled musical enthusiasm. The cuts jump from Hendrix-esque guitar blasts to Bill Frisell-type spaciness, with a fair measure of metallic chiming from guitarist (and Catholic priest) John Moulder, who skillfully emulates the entire history of post-Hendrix guitar. Bassist Eric Hochberg rallies behind Wertico, whose powerful yet controlled drumming occasionally manages to work up a level of intensity reminiscent of the pioneering Tony Williams.

The suitelike "Testament" blazes with an intensity that's often missing in contemporary jazz-rock recordings. But does Wertico call this "fusion''?

"Instead of shortchanging it by giving it a name, let's just say that it's jazz musicians improvising tunes," he said. "We're using all of our experiences as jazz musicians to make music about the last half century. 'Fusion' and 'jazz' have certain connotations to them; we just play music the way we want to play and have people enjoy it."

The Chicago-based trio, which will perform at the Bluebird Theater Wednesday as well as Breckenridge on Thursday and Winter Park on Friday, was formed to tour Germany and Poland in 1994. Wertico is bringing the group to Colorado for the first time. The drummer believes that the time for acceptance of his trio has come. "We really know this material, and John has been 'wrestling with the tiger' onstage."

In regard to the rather evocative title "Don't Be Scared Anymore," Wertico says it came from his young daughter. "And I decided that we were gonna put out this music and not be scared. Also, we don't want the audience to be scared of instrumental music."

Wertico, 47, has played with an eclectic variety of artists, but he's best known as a long-term member of guitarist Pat Metheny's group. He followed Metheny through several types of projects, including film sound tracks and Metheny's Grammy-winning softer material. But one particularly unique project involved Wertico with Metheny and the British avant garde racket maker, guitarist Derek Bailey.

"I've played a lot of weird music in my house, but Barb (Wertico's wife) wouldn't let me play that. One day, we heard the scampering of squirrels in the attic. So I wired up some speakers up there, played 'The Sign of Four' loudly, and pretty soon the squirrels were gone!" That's a pretty humane way to rid oneself of vermin.

"Actually," said Wertico, "I think the squirrel with the goatee stayed around."

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