Friday, December 13, 2002


Chad Wackerman, Forty Reasons (Times Square Records) - originally released 2001.

Best known for his earlier associations with Frank Zappa, Chad Wackerman is one of the doyens of fusion drumming. That could spell trouble. After all, jazz-rock territory is flooded with sub par musings and indulgent meanderings. With 'Forty Reasons', however, you could not be on more different territory. This is one of the most significant and underrated albums in its genre. I rushed out to buy it the year it was released, having heard its proponent on tour in London with Alan Holdsworth, whose intimidating legato guitar talents are also featured, alongside Jimmy Johnson on bass and Jim Cox on keyboards.

In concert Wackerman can occasionally be a little overpowering, swamping the more subtle accents and diversions of other musicians in a percussive storm. Here, however, the mix is just right, in every sense. There is a consideredness and musicality to these performances that puts them in a different league to those exaggerated instrumental pyrotechnics which can demean artists of this degree of technical virtuosity. But in 'Forty Reasons' what is being showcased is not just a drummer's prowess, but also a bandleader's thoughtfulness and a composer's inventiveness.

For this reason, power-trio cliches are pushed to one side. Instead we have some melodically and harmonically sophisticated compositions ranging over a typically nervy, shifting rhythmic base, and interspersed with delightfully dissonant, free form improvisations. The result is spell binding.

This album is best consumed as a whole: but it would be remiss of me not to mention 'Tell Me', which is a track of exemplary simplicity and extraordinary quality. The highlight is Alan Holdsworth's superlative solo: a flow of notes, ideas and cumulative elaborations that demonstrates precisely how a phrase can become a sentence and a sentence a paragraph of great dexterity and depth in the hands of a world-class artist.

Once you have come to appreciate this album, try Chad Wackerman's follow-up. 'The View', where the instrumentation and style is somewhat different, even if his trademark tub-thumping continues to be all over it.


A number of recording artists have come together to produce the 'Peace Not War' CD collection, mindful of the current threat of conflagration in the Middle East. Among the contributors are Nitin Sawhney, Asian Dub Foundation, Public Enemy, Massive Attack and the delightfully monikered DJ DisOrientalist. I haven't heard this one, and we know that 'cause' complilations can be varied in quality, to say the least. But there will almost certainly be one or two tracks that intrigue or (dare I say it) entertain on this, so do pop down to your HMV, Virgin or Tower and pick up a copy. I know, I know -- you usually shop at independents only, but this is the Season of Mammon, and you could well find yourself in need of a redemptive action in one of the megastores, so here it is. The 'biggest' artist on the CD, incidentally, is chart-topping Ms Dynamite. I'm not a big fan of the current vogue for schmaltzy soulified R&B, but she undoubtedly has a strong voice. Full details here.

And if you were feeling the need to expunge commercialism altogether while retaining a sense of real ideological engagement in the presence of gathering war clouds, you could always opt instead (or in addition) for the latest offering from that most extraordinary Canadian, 9-person post-rock-avant-orchestral collective, Godspeed! You Black Emperor: Yanqui U.X.O. Of course the impact would somewhat be lost if you used Amazon as more than a convenient online catalogue, but you can't win all the time...

All of which leads me to note that I shall have to give Godspeed! some serious attention in the near future, having been blown away when I caught them live in Brighton earlier in 2002. Check out especially 'Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennae to Heaven'. What an ideal Christmas present that album would be.

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