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Paul Wertico's Mid East/Mid West Alliance: Impressions of a City

John Kelman By

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For those only familiar with his work in Pat Metheny Group, drummer Paul Wertico's extracurricular career will be something of a shock. He may have been all light cymbal work and gentle pulses with PMG, but on albums like The Sign of Four (Knitting Factory, 1997)—a freewheeling session with Metheny in a "beyond"-Song X (Nonesuch, 1985) mood, über-free guitarist Derek Bailey and intrepid percussionist Gregg Bendian—Wertico proved that PMG's accessible grooves were but only one of his many diverse interests.

His debut as a leader, The Yin and the Yout (Intuition, 1993), introduced eclectic concerns ranging from pop grooves to ethereal atmospherics, while later releases focused on his touring trio with guitarist John Moulder and bassist Eric Hochberg, traversing pedal-to-the-metal fusion and avant-edged improv to lithe African high life. StereoNucleosis (A440, 2004) upped the ante; Wertico's most ambitious album to date, it also introduced bassist/multi-instrumentalist Brian Peters, who has since replaced Hochberg. Every Wertico album possesses, to some extent, free improvisation, making the completely spontaneous Impressions of a City an inevitable progression.

Impressions would not, however, be what it is were it not for Wertico's serendipitous encounter with two recent Israeli expats, guitarist Dani Rabin and saxophonist Danny Markovitch, who flesh Wertico's Mid East/Mid West Alliance out to a quintet, adding even greater textural breadth and a hint of the Middle East to an album that's Wertico at his most eclectic. Markovitch, in particular, turns the lyrical "Beauty Wherever Can You Find It" into a plaintive cry, on a piece that, with its strong sense of form, belies the fact that there was no written music, and no preplanning before engineer Nick Eipers hit the "record" button. Moulder—whose more decidedly structured Bifröst (Origin, 2009) provides as contrasting a view of his playing as Wertico's work with Metheny—adds a folk element on guitar, while Peters adds depth with fretless bass and soundscaping, as Rabin and Wertico plays colorists.

But that's only one impression. Elsewhere, electronics drive the ambiguity of the opening "A Light Too Soon," thundering mallets and piercing screams push "What Should I Wear Today," a deep backbeat drives the angular "Bumper to Bumper," and sparer interaction defines "Late Again" where Markovitch and Moulder play curious call-and-response over Wertico's responsive support. Impressions of a City's 18 tracks range from a mere 22 seconds to seven minutes, linked together into an hour-long suite that's truly only experienced as a singular entity. No individual player shines above the rest, but all are distinctive, especially on "The Boss Needs to See You," where Markovitch layers John Coltrane-esque sheets of sound over the group's tumultuous maelstrom.

Far from an easy listen, Impressions of a City remains a compelling one. Closing in on nearly a decade since his departure from Pat Metheny Group, it's time to stop thinking about Wertico in that context, and recognize him as a stylistically unbound, improvisationally intrepid player, composer and—as important as either on Impressions of a City—conceptualist.

Track Listing: A Light Too Soon; What Should I Wear Today; Bumper to Bumper; Late Again; Beauty Wherever You Can Find It; The Boss Needs to See You; 15 Minutes for Lunch; I Probably Shouldn't Have Done That; The Inside Track; A Chance to Breathe; Lake Fish Flowers; My Side of the Story; Word Salad; Closing the Deal; Drive at Five; Reflections on the Day; I Think I'm Hungry; Good Night and Good Luck

Personnel: Paul Wertico: drums; John Moulder: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, fretless guitar; Brian Peters: electric bass, duduk, shvi, soundscapes, synthesizer, violin, piano; Dani Rabin: electric guitar, looping, prepared guitar, slides; Danny Markovitch: electric soprano and tenor saxophones

Title: IMPRESSIONS OF A CITY | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Chicago Sessions

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