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Buddy Rich Redivivus - Dave Weckl & Rodger Fox

Buddy Rich Redivivus - Dave Weckl
& the Rodger Fox Big Band

Howard Davis

The Wellington Jazz Festival continues to attract jazz luminaries from around the globe. In the past two years we have been privileged to hear Chick Corea, Gary Burton, and Wayne Shorter's quartet. Somewhat misleadingly, Thursday night's headliners were in effect the ubiquitous Rodger Fox Big Band, accompanying a plethora of guest stars - including jazz fusion drummer Dave Weckl, long-time Santana luminary Tony Lindsay, Down Beat rising sax star Adam Schroeder, and Mingus Big Band trumpeter Alex Sipiagin.

In the intimate setting of Wellington's Opera House, Lindsay and Fox' muscular horn section stoked the audience up with a number of rousing and smoothly-delivered standards, while Weckl ignited the flame with a set that was largely dedicated to the memory Buddy Rich - minus the rictus grin and gallons of sweat. What followed was an explosive and incendiary masterclass, as his crisply precise approach to the traps laced each fill with a dazzling display of percussive pyrotechnics, with coruscating cascades of rims shots and paradiddles emerging effortlessly from his kit, and a pair of technically superb solos blistered and sizzled like firecrackers. It's no surprise that Modern Drummer inducted Weckl into their Hall of Fame in 2000, naming him "one of the 25 best drummers of all time," easily on a par with such modern drum masters as Billy Cobham and Bill Bruford.

For over thirty years, Weckl has developed and maintained a solid reputation among fans, peers, and the international music community as one of the greatest jazz drummers in the world. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1960, he started playing drums to records by the Monkees and Creedence Clearwater Revival, but his interest quickly turned to jazz drummers like Rich, Louie Bellson, Philly Joe Jones, and Steve Gadd. During high school, Weckl played with a variety of local bands and received several awards from the National Association of Jazz Educators for outstanding performances with his school's competition-winning jazz band. In 1979, Weckl went to the University of Bridgeport, Maine, and started playing in the New York club scene. Peter Erskine was sufficiently impressed by his precocious talent to recommend him for his first major gig with a group called French Toast, featuring iconic bass player Anthony Jackson, who in turn recommend him for the Simon & Garfunkel reunion tour of 1983.

This exposure got Weckl noticed by other industry luminaries and lead to many radio and TV jingles, soundtrack work, and session opportunities, including recording dates with George Benson, Peabo Bryson, Diana Ross, and Robert Plant. In 1985, Michael Brecker suggested Weckl to Chick Corea for his new Elektric Band - the beginning of a seven-year stint with both the Elektric and Akoustic bands that produced nine albums and a Grammy, showcasing his cutting-edge drumming technique and innovative use of electronic and acoustic drums. Although the Elektric Band went on a ten-year hiatus in the early 90s, a concept album entitled To The Stars was released in 2004 and it reunited for tours in 2011 and 2016/17.

Weckl's solo career began in 1990 with the release of Master Plan. Co-written and produced with longtime colleague Jay Oliver, the album proved to be a watershed. It featured a dynamic and diverse collection of tracks with top jazz fusion players, solidified Weckl's reputation as an emerging leader in the world of drumming, and marked a passing of the torch in terms of next-generation artistry. Since then, Weckl has recorded nine other solo/leader recordings, including Heads Up and Hard-Wired in the early '90s. In 1998, he realized his long-term goal of forming a world-touring band and released five studio records, including Rhythm Of The Soul, Synergy, Transition, Perpetual Motion, and Multiplicity, and a concert album LIVE (And Very Plugged In). Instructional videos have always been an important component in Weckl's career. Contemporary Drummer + 1 was the first play-along product ever published for drums, and the subsequent Back to Basics and The Next Step were best-sellers. After studying with Freddie Gruber in the early '90s, Weckl updated his technical approach and released a three-part series of videos called A Natural Evolution, which refined earlier concepts to help drummers play in an efficient and relaxed manner, and solidified his status as an articulate and respected teacher.

After many years of sideman work with guitar legend Mike Stern, Chris Minh Doky's Nomads, Oz Noy, and others, Weckl spent 2013 reunited with Jay Oliver. Together they launched a crowd-funding campaign that attracted over two thousand pre-orders of a project that would eventually be dubbed Convergence. The album featured ten tunes, including piano and drum solo pieces and an uplifting cover of Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground, which has been viewed millions of times on YouTube and Facebook (see link below). In 2015, Weckl formed the Dave Weckl Acoustic Band and released Of The Same Mind and a DVD filmed at Hollywood's Catalina Bar & Grill. He recently returned to touring with the Elektric Band, Mike Stern, and Oz Noy, and founded an online school with comprehensive drum tutorials, new play-along products, and live footage from current tours. His clinics and master classes continue to attract capacity crowds worldwide.

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