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Chad Wackerman: Dreams, Nightmares and Improvisations

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A former member of Frank Zappa’s touring band and longstanding member of guitar hero Allan Holdsworth’s trio, power-precision drummer Chad Wackerman is also an accomplished composer with five albums as a leader to his credit. His latest features Holdsworth (his third time playing sideman to Wackerman), along with the guitarist’s longtime bassist, Jimmy Johnson. The three exhibit their usual uncanny chemistry on a number of Wackerman’s harmonically advanced, prog-rock-meets-jazz originals.

Holdsworth makes judicious use of his SynthAxe, a MIDI triggering device he had practically abandoned since the ’90s, for shimmering, orchestral synth timbres on “A New Day,” the slow-grooving, Weather Report-ish “Star Gazing” and “The Fifth,” an explosive Wackerman piece they previously recorded on the 2010 Tony Williams tribute album Blues for Tony (with bassist Jimmy Haslip and pianist Alan Pasqua) and one that Holdsworth continues to play in concert. The guitarist’s jaw-dropping legato technique is in full effect on the eerie soundscape “Monsieur Vintage,” the darkly lyrical “Edith Street,” the jazzy, open-ended “Bent Bayou” and the rubato, free-blowing “A Spontaneous Story.” On “The Billows,” the guitar great solos on something called the Starr Z-Board, which sounds reminiscent of Joe Zawinul’s onetime pet MIDI instrument, the Pepe.

For a change of pace from the Holdsworth-dominant tracks, Wackerman delves into some strict pocket playing with organist Jim Cox on “Brain Funk” and the nasty wah-wah-fueled synth-bass throwdown “Two for Ya.” He also turns in the unaccompanied drumming tour de force “Rapid Eye Movement,” and the peaceful “Glass Lullaby,” which features him overdubbing tuned percussion and gongs against a gentle brushes backdrop.

Originally Published