Paul Wertico Drums Without Boundaries, 2023.
Da Vinci Publishing
By Jeff Cebulski | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Conventional popular music, including jazz, has been understood as needing drummers to “keep the beat” and stay out of the way, even with the emergence of superstar drummers in big bands, like Gene Krupa, Chick Webb, and Buddy Rich. Relatively brief solos were always part of the jazz mix, at least in modern times. Not long after my introduction to a rhythm instrument as a solo excursion, I heard Joe Morello’s famous solo on the Brubeck Quartet’s “Castilian Drums” recorded at Carnegie Hall and was thereby convinced a drummer could be heard “musically” independent of his mates.
Since then, modern jazz drummers evolved into ensemble leaders and composers, and there are plenty of recordings that attest to their talents as arrangers and producers. A recent example comes from one of Chicago’s finest, Paul Wertico, whose longstanding career playing in various ensembles is well noted and rewarded. While many fans remember him as a member of the Pat Metheny Group (and as a stellar contributor to Metheny’s outstanding Secret Story), he has also played with Larry Coryell, Lawrence Hobgood, Kurt Elling, Ken Nordine, Paul Winter, Bobby Lewis, and John Moulder, among many others.
However, not many know that Wertico has had a significantly successful career in Europe, where he is highly respected. Jazz fans and producers in Italy, especially, have coveted Wertico for performance and recordings, which are taken very seriously. Since 2008, Wertico has recorded and played with former Supertramp saxophonist John Helliwell as well as leading a trio on trips throughout Italy. (The whole list of references can be found HERE.)
A little over a year ago, Wertico was contacted by the Executive Producers of the Da Vinci Classics label to record an album featuring an Italian percussion ensemble, the Ichos Percussion Quintet (utilizing glockenspiel, marimbas, timpani, and other percussions added to the mix) and involving Wertico’s favorite Italian bassist, Gianmarco Scaglia, along with British guitarist Alex Munk and Italian vibraphonist Mirko Pedrotti.
Although Wertico was originally hired just as a special guest for the recording in Soncino, due to circumstances during the recording it became necessary for the inventive skinsman to be THE leader and producer to complete the project. The result is Drums Without Boundaries, a remarkable collection of pieces that demonstrate Wertico’s impressive abilities within groups, among fellow percussionists, in solo situations, and as a producer. While the ambiance of the occasions suggests an adventure in chamber music (including an interpretation of John Cage), the involvement of Munk and, on two cuts, fellow guitarist John Moulder, creates forms of Fusion and exploratory jazz elevated by the outstanding acoustics. Among the selections are works recorded elsewhere and re-imagined by Wertico, the result of his listening to a feed and then playing on top of it. Thus, it would be instructive for the hearer to keep that in mind—good jazz drummers listen to their fellow players, and Wertico demonstrates that skill throughout the album.
Modern technology helps, too. Given the nature of sound, the percussion elements involved also had to be recorded separately and added. Much of this album was produced in layers; some of Wertico’s and both of Moulder’s contributions were not recorded in Italy, for example. With state-of-the-art facilities and a crack sound engineer, Gabriele Zanetti, at hand, this new record is recommended for those who have high quality sound systems at their disposal.
The selections fall into three types: the fusionesque offerings involving Munk and the basic ensemble; the pieces with Moulder’s reverbed, angular washes bathing Wertco and the Ichos Ensemble; and the percussive solo performances.
Scaglia contributed four compositions. “Alchimia” begins with a high powered Wertico expression that runs up to a Latin-ish melody played by Pedrotti. “Black Two,” previously recorded on a quartet album by Scaglia and Wertico, is given a frenetic, incessant acoustic bass groove while Munk provides space sounds that comp Pedrotti’s modal attack. “Sicily” is Scaglia’s turn to solo, with Muck’s tasty acoustic playing and Wertico’s sensitive cymbal support; this lovely song is, to me, too short. “Simple Land” again features the bassist, but with tympani accompaniment.
As for the drummer/leader, Wertico has five contributions and one prominent interpretation. “Corner Conversation” is a massive percussion vehicle with Wertico pounding and thrashing behind his layered, more sedate exploration. “Somewhere in Between” and “You Can Get There From Here” include Moulder’s ambient, synthesized additions. “Time Well Served” is a drum tour de force, accompanied by Ichos’ Gianmaria Romanenghi on timpani. “Three Movements In Movement” is a Wertico postmodern chamber high octane production.
Two cuts come closer to conventional jazz. “Hunting” begins as a blues and then morphs into extraterrestrial bop featuring a scathing ax attack from Munk. “Urban Mood” features a lightly rhythmed theme from Pedrotti bathed in Wertico’s own cymbal washes.
And then there is Wertico’s ‘Deconstructing’ of John Cage’s well known “Third Construction,” composed for a percussion quartet. Here Wertico’s “reconstructing” has more to do with his trying to represent four players in one performer. I decided to listen to a rendition of it online first to get a sense of what Paul was responding to (from the McGill Percussion Ensemble, 2011). Then I played the album and the recording simultaneously, or close to it. In the process, I got a real appreciation for Wertico’s ability to listen and respond.
Jazz, involving improvisation, imagination, and interpretation, can’t be settled into mere formula. The beauty of the genre is the personality and style of its players, who invent new ways to present often old stories. Paul Wertico, on Drums Without Boundaries, exemplifies what can happen if someone with the ability to realize, respond, and record puts trust in the performers. The result is a sound extravagance that brings the keen listener into the world of the artist’s imagination.
Paul Wertico, Paul Wertico’s Drums Without Boundaries. Da Vinci Classics, 2023.
Paul Wertico, drums and percussion
Gianmarco Scaglia, bass
Alex Munk, guitar
Mirko Pedrotti, vibraphone
John Moulder, guitar
The Ichos Percussion Quintet:
Luca Vanoli, glockenspiel
Georgio Calvo and Fabio Zuliani, marimbas
Gianmaria Romanenghi, percussions and timpani
Nicolo Giovanni Demurtas, percussions