A monster debut from a monster talent, and the beginning of a series of game-changing fusion recordings as a leader.
By 1990, Dave Weckl was the talk of the drumming world. A headlong dive into the New York jazz scene in the early ’80s yielded recognition from a variety of musicians. Among them was Peter Erskine, who recommended the young drummer to play in a group called French Toast, featuring pianist Michel Camilo and bassist Anthony Jackson. That band was a precursor to Camilo’s own group that would form soon after, giving Weckl the hard-earned opportunity to innovate on his instrument with incredible technical facility and brilliant musicality.
Soon Weckl found himself working with everyone from Simon and Garfunkel to Michael Brecker, while also doing TV jingles and session work. Chick Corea took notice and recruited the drummer for his Elektric Band, which gave Weckl his biggest stage yet to lay down inspired grooves and solo with a laser-like precision as yet unheard in the jazz genre. Weckl’s time with Corea brought about several records with both the “plugged-in” main group and the off shoot Akoustic Band, which featured piano, upright bass, and a repertoire heavy on standards but no less mind-blowing.
By the turn of the decade, Weckl was working to have his own voice as a leader heard. In 1990, with major songwriting and production assistance from his friend, keyboardist Jay Oliver, Weckl released his first solo album, Master Plan. Helping the drummer make his dreams a reality was a lineup of stellar revolving musicians, including Chick Corea, Anthony Jackson, Michael Brecker, Elektric Band sax player Eric Marienthal, and future Dave Weckl Band bassist Tom Kennedy.
Weckl wastes no time establishing his assertive presence with the opening track, “Tower of Inspiration,” a tip of the hat to the Oakland funk and soul legends Tower of Power. Digital recording was all the rage in this era, so you’re immediately thrown into a clean, in-your-face mix where the clarity of the instruments stands out and the drum mix is undeniably front and center. Weckl pays homage to David Garibaldi’s signature style with some funky, syncopated snare work and slick linear hi-hat phrasing on the B sections. The whole thing grooves hard, and Weckl is especially active underneath Oliver’s organ solo, with written-out hits showing off the band’s tightness.
“Here and There” brings a loping half-time shuffle, and Weckl locks in with Jackson’s bass like his life depends on it, opening up to his ride for Marienthal’s sax solo and generally making it all feel slightly behind the beat. The drummer then brings his considerable Latin chops (after years with Camilo and Corea) to “Festival de Ritmo,” a nice Carnaval-esque romp that leaves room for Weckl to throw down a short-but-sweet solo with all the goodies that made him such an imitated gure.
From 1:02 to 1:17, on top of a keyboard montuno, Weckl whips out arresting snare and tom jabs, cymbal crashes with nothing underneath them, and lightning- quick triplet patterns, before returning to his initial groove. Weckl sounds free and loose underneath the sax solo here, almost suspending the original pulse to snake around the time with Jackson’s bass. It sounds as if they’re each trying to leave space for the other to fill, and the feel is close to that of an improvised studio jam. At 3:44, Weckl returns with another blazing solo, until the band plays the out head and you’re given a chance to catch your breath.
“In Common” flirts with subtle adult- contemporary jazz styles, with Weckl playing sidestick until eventually bringing in a four-on-the-floor kick pattern that moves things along nicely. “Garden Wall” features Corea on synthesizer and Brecker on tenor sax, with a driving ride cymbal part that keeps time for the soloists without overdoing it.
While the reverb-heavy snare and world music vocal of “Auratune” haven’t stood the test of time terribly well, Weckl’s piano-trio arrangement of “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” with Ray Kennedy on the ivories, Tom Kennedy on acoustic bass, and the drummer on a dry, unaffected jazz kit, still slays. Weckl is swinging his behind off here, with beautiful snare ghosting, engaging tom fills, and an extreme level of hand speed and control. He brings the dynamic way down for the bass solo, burning underneath a barrage of notes, before having his own moment over the standard’s breaks. Weckl’s trades go by in a flash, ending with some fun cymbal chokes and snare ruffs.
The title track brings Corea back on acoustic piano and features another special guest in the form of Steve Gadd, who is heard in the right channel while Weckl is in the left. It’s a painstakingly notated Corea composition, and each drummer is given space to show his stuff. At times Gadd is riding his cowbell as Weckl colors with cymbals, while other moments find Gadd on his cymbals as Weckl works his toms. Midway through, the drummers trade brief solos, each laying down big snare-and-tom- heavy phrases before the track turns to an enchanting Jackson bass solo.
Gadd then returns with tighter snare work, echoed in the other channel by Weckl. The listener gets a sense of the respect that each player holds for the other, with neither trying to show the other one up. Gadd then brings in a propulsive, uptempo offbeat ride pattern, and the track fades out. Bringing in Gadd and giving him solos and a prominent voice in the arrangement is a testament to Weckl’s egoless approach on the album. He didn’t have to have another major player (and a likely influence) grace his debut, but Gadd’s work adds a different flavor to the material, and makes Weckl’s singular voice stand out that much more.
The 7/8 of “Island Magic” ends the album on an upbeat note, and is filled with some low-key drum programming, Weckl’s timbale overdubs, and more Latin vamping. Time is elastic for the drummer’s solo, with fiery singles broken up between toms and dynamic phrases brought from a whisper to a roar.
Other acclaimed albums as a leader would follow Weckl’s debut, including 1992’s Heads Up and 1994’s Hard Wired, before the drummer formed a touring band under his own name and released yet more excellent records. But it was on Master Plan where the highly regarded sideman now staked his claim as the guy to watch, a player with the serious goods. Here, Weckl was able to bring one of the highest levels of technique heard on record, not to mention a group of strong songs—not a given in the fusion genre. Soon after, students at music schools had to grapple with Weckl’s monumental playing and check him out on the live stage whenever they could.
Dave Weckl: Master Tracks
Analyzing a few choice picks from the monster’s gamechanging solo debut.
by Willie Rose
“Tower of Inspiration”
On Master Plan’s opener, Weckl kicks things off with a tight, sharp flurry before diving into a David Garibaldi–inspired groove.
Weckl varies this slaying, syncopated hi-hat pattern during the song’s first B section, which starts around the 0:31 mark.
“Here and There”
Weckl’s take on a classic half-time shuffle shines throughout Master Plan’s second track. Here’s a taste.
“Festival de Ritmo”
After a rapid tom- and splash-laden intro, the drummer dives into the following burning Latin-fusion groove.
Check out the displaced floor tom variation that Weckl incorporates into the second half of this pattern’s four-bar phrase to create the feeling of a shifting time signature.
Master Plan’s closer showcases the drummer’s deft navigation through 7/8. Here’s the opening groove of the A section, which enters around the 0:14 mark.