Pop-jazz tributes to adult-contemporary artists usually scare me off, but this one's different. Yes, Rhythm of the Soul is a tribute to drummer Dave Weckl's favorite R&B and pop artists. But it features 11 original compositions co-written by Weckl and his longtime pal Jay Oliver. Weckl and company merely borrow a few stylistic tricks from favored artists Sting, Ringo Starr, Clyde Stubblefield and Stevie Wonder, but there are no covers on this one.
The album has a bit of a pop sheen, but there's a lot of substance beneath its shiny surface. Weckl surrounds himself with players who can keep up with his funky drumming, and such folks aren't easy to find. I've often cited saxman Bob Malach as a favorite, Jay Oliver is a talented keyboardist, Tom Kennedy plays a nice bass, and Buzz Feiten contributes some stinging guitar to this one. Weckl's former Chick Corea Elektric Band-mate Frank Gambale (guitar) and Steve Tavaglione (sax) also put in appearances.
A couple of tracks are downright wonderful: "101 Shuffle" and "Mud Sauce" are fast-paced cuts that'll remain on my Top 40 list for a long time to come. "Access Denied" is the most fusion-oriented track, and it's also a favorite. One complaint: "Transition Jam" is so incredibly rhythmic and fun that it should have gone on for at least five minutes more. It makes me wish Weckl and friends would record a complete album of unrehearsed improvisations.
Rhythm of the Soul is a spirited collection that lives in that netherworld between fusion and pop-jazz. Fans of early Bob Berg, the Brecker Brothers, Spyro Gyra and the Yellowjackets should appreciate it most.