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Paul Wertico's Mid-East/Mid-West Alliance - Impressions Of A City



... Wertico's hour-plus-long journeys through what one might assume is a sonic, sometimes lyrical, sometimes ambient and/or noise, portrait of Chicago... 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. A heads-up for all budding drummers (check out Wertico's inventive pause of a solo on 'My Side of the Story') who would like to hear and create music that goes beyond just keeping time. - 41/2 stars!


Music: 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.
Drumming: Whether it's the silvery fractals of cymbal articulation ("15 Minutes For Lunch"; "The Boss Needs To See You"), deceptively simple tom patter ("Word Salad"), or zesty brush work ("Closing The Deal"), Wertico never misses landing on the snare or some other drum to re-orient himself. It's almost startling to hear rock beats on "The Inside Track," the Middle Eastern-flavored "Bumper To Bumper," and at the beginning of album closer "Good Night And Good Luck." Multiple music voices are accompanied by freer-than-free rhythms that nonetheless feel deliberate and coolly measured.
Verdict: 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.

Jazz Inside NY

Replete with crash, clatter and soundscapes of all stripes, drummer Paul Wertico's newly formed Mid-East/Mid-West Alliance (an amalgam of his established trio with guitarist John Moulder and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Brian Peters and two newcomers to his realm, guitarist Dani Rabin and saxophonist Danny Marcovitch) takes a sonically engrossed look at the modern city via a day-in-the-life motif. Rising from the rather pure, though disturbing, ambiance of "A Light Too Soon," the record meshes Eastern and Western tones (mostly driven by electricity) in exploring the anxiety-enriched landscape we call modern life. Radio chatter gives way to the mechanical churning of "Bumper To Bumper" that in turns morphs into the slow ghostly disaster-in-waiting of "Late Again" that strangely gives way to a lyracal beauty that will not be revisited again until the late-going, until after leaving the office, in "Reflections On The Day." Most of the set is a rabble of drums and electronic thundering, mixing as acidic stomach gases, computers and over-fired synapses of the brain. A configuration immediately recognizable, gripping and disturbing for the modern worker. Wertico ends the record the way Bob Dylan is prone to do after serving up heaps of distress, with the shrug of the shoulders and a joke: "Good Night and Good Luck." This is musical narrative at its finest. A fanfare for the common (and mechanically exploited) 21st century man and woman.

Chicago Jazz Magazine

Paul Wertico has never seemed to be an artist content to play within the confines of the mainstream. Whether playing with Earwax Control or his own trio or his newest project, The Mid East/Mid West Alliance, if there's one thing that you can expect from Paul Wertico it's the unexpected. His bands always feature top-notch players, and that continues to be the case on his latest, Impressions Of A City.

Now, the easy way to do this review would be to compare Impressions Of A City to, say, Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother and call it a day. It wouldn't be an entirely out of bounds comparison, and I'm fairly certain that fans of Pink Floyd's early seventies output might just get more from this disc than your average jazz fan. Both have a ton of energy for being such "out" and obtuse discs. Both have a couple of moments of what some might call clarity in between the sonic maelstrom that occurs otherwise. But the comparisons would stop there, because while the Floyd album is confined by what Roger Waters and Co. would consider "heady" or "trippy" or "psychedelic," Wertico's project and its phenomenal cast of characters are limited only by their imaginations.

Now, trying to pull apart the eighteen tracks here in an attempt to describe them one by one is completely pointless. This disc is presented as a suite, and should be listened to as such. That being the case, I will try to describe the "whole" to you as succinctly as possible.

Especially in its opening moments, the disc is a sound collage. The first sounds one hears are looping guitars, Middle Eastern drones on the soprano saxophone and... a traffic report? Well, the disc is called Impressions Of A City, and as one listens to it multiple times, it becomes clear that this isn't a random collection of sounds, loops and drones. It's clearly pieced together music made by five outstanding musicians with the ability to see the whole picture and take that idea to its conclusion. So, if Impressions of a City starts off with the hectic hustle and bustle with which we all start our mornings, then it only makes sense.

As the disc winds from the beginning of the day into the workday, I am reminded of the soundtrack to The Killing Fields at the moment the Khmer Rouge are taking over Cambodia. If you've never heard the score, all I can say is it's some of the most fear-inducing music I've ever heard. "The Boss Needs To See You" and "The Inside Track" don't top that feeling of weary discombobulation, but they're not far off.

The closing third of the disc brings the intensity level down a bit. Even the drum solo that is much of "My Side of the Story" is a tom-filled jam that doesn't exude any of the frantic energy found ninety-nine percent of jazz drum solos. Then again, one could just as easily attribute that to the mastery Wertico has over his instrument.

As the disc closes, it returns to the "sound collage" idea that opens the disc, until finally coming to one hell of a close with "Good Night and Good Luck." If the first third of the disc was devoted the hustle and bustle of the morning commute, the middle third was devoted to the thankless job that so many people make their daily grind and most of the final third was the sound of winding down, then "Good Night and Good Luck" must be the insanity that is Rush Street or Milwaukee, North and Damen at 10 pm on a Friday.

I don't know that I nailed Mr. Wertico's concept for this disc at all, but it sure was fun to listen and try. Also, I'm glad to see that this disc also served as a springboard to introduce Dani Rabin and Danny Markovitch to Chicago's already rich jazz scene. This is as good a space as any to tell anyone interested in Impressions of a City to check out Dani and Danny's bands, Marbin and Rabak. Those bands are outstanding as well.

Impressions Of A City is a monster disc, but it's also an enigmatic one. It's the kind of disc that will have no casual fans, and will likely suffer few single listens. Those that aren't into Wertico's brand of "weird" probably won't spend any time with it in the first place, and those that are will be enthralled and rewarded by multiple listens.

Attention filmmakers - here is a soundtrack waiting for a film. I would suggest as setting a hellish cityscape - possibly Chicago, possibly Tel Aviv - in any case, post-Apolcayptic. Insisting that none of this material be written or rehearsed ahead of time, former Pat Metheny Group (among others) drummer Wertico went into Studiomedia Recording studios in Evanston - where he augmented his usual trio (himself, bassist/multi-instrumentalist Brian Peters and stellar guitarist John Moulder) with two recent emigrants from Israel - saxophonist Danny Markovitch and guitarist Dani Rabin (we recently reviewed this duo's Marbin release see here). The results are interesting and often unsettling, with moments of calm reflection broken by industrial cacophony. Melodically, the strains often recall the sound of the Mideast - perhaps a prayer call floating high over a city moments before the bomb hits. This is the soundtrack I suspect Hieronymus Bosch would have written had he been a modern composer watching the news. The sometimes humorous titles ("Bumper to Bumper," "15 Minutes For Lunch," "Closing the Deal," "The Boss Needs to See You") hint at the idea that beneath the surface elements of the ordinary daily grind exists an individual hell for each of us living in this modern world. 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 ("My Side of the Story" is his only true "solo"). Peters provides some chewy bass, synths, violin and an assortment of unusual instruments and sounds, while Rabin's loops and sounds (found radio broadcasts) 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.

69 Faces of Rock

This album is a very interesting experiment. Paul was able to incorporate many players with variety of styles, and make it work. The players coming from very diverse environments complement each other with clear distinction. Wertico's drums in the middle are like the mediating machine through this colorful avant-garde of sounds.

Impressions Of A City is an incredibly sharp release. 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. What makes it work so well is how they supplement each other.

Both players from Marbin make a very distinctive contribution, and their style is unmistakable. It's like having a band within a band. But that's one of many appealing points of the album. The harmony of the players is what makes this very orchestral. Everything happens at the right time, and yes, there are plenty of unexpected left turns.

Impressions Of A City is a combination of beauty and disturbance. Musically the album is reflective of life itself in a soundtrack sort of way. It's a record with more than one heart. - 41/2 stars!

Howard Reich (Chicago Tribune)

Paul Wertico: The jazz percussionist who sounds like Chicago. It's loud and raucous, erupting with energy, funky, hip, rich in blues and sometimes flat-out bizarre -- or at least that's the portrait that the irrepressible Chicago percussionist Paul Wertico has painted on a bold new CD. Weird electronic effects, straight-ahead jazz, scorching blues, rock-tinged guitar wails, ambient sounds of the city -- it's all there on the CD.

There's just one catch: Wertico and the ensemble never have played live for an audience before. Instead, they converged for just two days in a recording studio over the summer and started to improvise -- without a note written down (not that music of this textural complexity ever really could be notated).

Even so, the CD unfolds with a grandeur and overarching shape that would lead you to conclude vast amounts of planning had gone into it. "No -- when we recorded, we got together, ordered some pizzas, talked a little ... and then we just hit it," says Wertico.

That 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.

Perhaps this freely improvised music emerged so persuasively because of the particular alchemy of its personnel. Wertico and guitarist John Moulder were once young turks of Chicago jazz who -- through the decades -- have become seasoned virtuosos. For this project, though, they collaborated with musicians in their 20s who could learn from their elders but also inspire them (and vice versa): multi-instrumentalists Brian Peters, guitarist Dani Rabin and saxophonist Danny Markovitch.

The cross-generational nature of this staffing gives this music 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.

When the recording dates started, "It was a little too sensitive," remembers Wertico. "And I said, 'Come on, guys, let's just play.' "

That's when everyone cut loose, says the percussionist, who -- to his credit -- does not try to dominate the proceedings in this music. On the contrary, Wertico focuses on the constantly shifting sounds of the ensemble, which changes tone and timbre not just between tracks but from one bar to the next.

Modern Drummer

"Once you rehearse, it's not immediate anymore," says drummer Paul Wertico in the liner notes to Impressions Of A City, a free-improv date connecting Middle Eastern sonorities with the avant, loud/soft dynamics of Chicago's underground music scene. Wertico keeps the proceedings from going off the rails with subtle, well-placed cymbal strokes and tom accents. But with two screaming guitars and electrified sax, the music can shift into forte rawk on a dime. The assaultive drumming of "The Inside Track" is a welcome cry from Wertico's Metheny days, and it allows the listeners to revel in the beauty of the drummer's contolled chaos.


If you remember drummer Paul Wertico from his 1983-2001 tenure in the Pat Metheny Group, then his Mid-East/Mid-West Alliance's new Impressions Of A City will qualify as something completely and noisily different. Wertico complements his regular trio partners (guitarist John Moulder, multi-instrumentalist Brian Peters) with Israeli imports Dani Rabin (guitar) and Danny Markovitch (saxophone) to create music that alternates between swinging and startling.

"We didn't even talk about the music beforehand," Wertico says of the improvised sessions in the liner notes. Yet anyone who listens will be talking about it afterward. Many of the tracks, like the opening soundscapes "A Light Too Soon" and "What Should I Wear Today," clock in at less than three minutes. The subsequent "Bumper to Bumper" features Markovitch's wailing soprano amid a metallic wall of Moulder and Rabin's guitars, which makes pieces like "Beauty Wherever You Can Find It"—with Wertico's mallet work and a tranquil melody—that much more of a contrast. "I Probably Shouldn't Have Done That" and "The Inside Track" offer a cacophony of difficult-to-distinguish sounds, with Moulder's fretted and fretless guitars, Rabin's guitars and loops, and Peters' bass, keyboards and violin.

Definitely for the adventurous more than the squeamish, Impressions Of A City is practically guaranteed to alternately please and annoy. And perhaps even more jarring than some of the tunes is how Wertico solidified his quintet's lineup. The drummer had already hired Moulder and Peters to play his daughter's bat mitzvah, and added Rabin and Markovitch to form a quartet to play background music and traditional songs. Chances are no one in attendance saw these impressions coming.

The A.V. Club (The Onion)

Prominent session drummer and assistant professor of jazz studies at Roosevelt University, Chicago's Paul Wertico shares the jazz-friendly acoustics at SPACE with the Mid-East/Mid-West Alliance to celebrate the release of its new record, Impressions Of A City, an improvised session of haunting jazz-rock. Between the jungly atmosphere of "What Should I Wear Today" and the quirky shredding within "Word Salad"—where do jazzbos get their song titles?—Wertico and friends include enough elements to please both picky jazz purists and rock fans alike, mixing hardcore distortion on the axe with synths, saxes, and the ambient soundscape. So pretty standard stuff, as far as insane avant-garde recording sessions with legendary fusion-jazz drummers go.

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