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CD Review 

by Michael Bowen

What should fusion fuse with? Since its beginnings in the 1960s as an attempt to meld jazz language with funk backbeats and rock instrumentation, fusion has sometimes become a m & eacute;lange of other styles.

Drummer Dave Weckl's seventh CD as a leadman, Live (and very plugged in) (Stretch Records), blends hard bop not only with funk but with a variety of world music rhythms -- Latin, African, Caribbean.

Weckl is a drummer's drummer, the kind of kit man that even non-jazz drummers study just to gape at. Then again, he also has a mullet. That reveals a lot about his roots: playing for Chick Corea's Elektric and Akoustic bands in the '80s. This live, two-CD set, recorded during a week at Hollywood's Catalina Bar & amp; Grill, revisits several tunes from the group's Synergy and Perpetual Motion CDs and certainly carries on Corea's Latin-influenced mode of electrified jazz.

But Weckl's work also raises another question: What should predominate in a jazz quartet -- teamwork or technical display? Is it the groove or is it the chops?

Weckl, saxophonist Gary Meek and keyboardist Steve Weingart have all played at one time or another with both Corea and Herbie Hancock. All three, then, know how to dribble a jazz ball behind their backs and then dish it off. The same goes for bass player and longtime Weckl friend Tom Kennedy, who displays some fretwork so fast on "The Chicken" (from '60s funk sax man Pee Wee Ellis) that the notes seem blurred.

For fans of upbeat electric fusion, "Wake Up" is the highlight of this collection: Meek is anything but, screaming out his solo, while Weckl pounds out an unabashed funky beat. On "Mesmer-Eyes," keyboards and sax trade riffs with increasing intensity, with Weingart's ideas less integrated and more showy than Meek's brief turns on tenor.

The recording, understandably, mikes Weckl's kit closely, bringing him to the forefront even when he's supposedly getting out of the way. He's so accomplished that it feels as if all four of his limbs are competing for preeminence.

Much of the second disk, however, is filled out with a drum solo ("Cultural Concurrence") and a bass-drum duet (T. Monk's "Rhythm-a-Ning") that show off the technical mastery but still feel like filler.

All in all, as part of the fusion tradition, the Weckl band's first live recording doesn't blaze new trails. But man, can they play.

Publication date: 02/19/04
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