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Trio affinity

Celebrity drummer plays as part of Larry Coryell Trio tonight at Waldron

by Mike Leonard

The Scene

February 23, 2006

Paul Wertico enjoys celebrity drummer status wherever he goes, and he covers territory from jazz fusion and straight-head jazz to his own Chicago-based ensemble experiments to the Eastern European progressive rock of the band, SBB.

"Music is almost like making love," he observed in a phone interview last week. "It's not how good two people are individually. It's whether they click together."

If their 2004 album, "Tricycles," is an accurate measure, the Larry Coryell Trio enjoys an enviable intimacy. Wertico, fretless bassist Mark Egan and guitar master Coryell display an almost telepathic musical relationship.

It's all the more fascinating to know that the acclaimed album was recorded in Germany in a scheduled session that found all three players falling-off-their-stools ill with a flu-like sickness. And yet, somehow, they rose above all obstacles to make music that sounds fresh and creative.

Wertico, Egan and Coryell will perform tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the cozy confines of the John Waldron Arts Center auditorium in a show sponsored by Jazz From Bloomington. The players bring a ton of experience and acclaim to the table, and if improvisation defines jazz to you, they bring that in abundance as well.

"Larry has never and probably never will have a set list," Wertico explained. "The very first tune, Mark and I won't know what he's going to do. And he won't tell us. I might have my brushes in my hands, and it's like, 'Oh, no, I've got to go with my sticks.'"

Sometimes, the affable drummer confesses, he might stick with the brushes anyway and change the whole approach to the song, challenging his band mates to play off of him.

"Larry's not selfish at all," he explained. "He lets the bass player and the drummer have a say. It's like a chef. You have a lot of ingredients and you can change the amount of spice at any time and still have a good result. You might want to try more paprika on a given night and see how it goes.

"The point," the veteran drummer said, "is that you live in the moment instead of the past. It's like taking the back roads instead of the Interstate. You know where the Interstate goes. It's more fun taking the back roads and heading in a general direction."

Wertico, who, like Bloomington's Kenny Aronoff, is revered for his both his "chops" and sense for appropriate accompaniment, observed: "The thing about music is this. You want to have the stuff that's worked out to sound like you just invented it, and the stuff you improvise to sound like you've done it a million times."

A star in his own right, Wertico is happy to simply join forces with Coryell, whose guitar mastery is probably undercut in the general music fan's pantheon by his youthful meteoric emergence as an avatar of jazz fusion.

While Miles Davis and John McLaughlin are often the first credited for merging jazz virtuosity with rock sensibilities, Coryell's 1966 recording, "Free Spirit," ranks with the best early fusion excursions.

He went on to play in acoustic, and even classical, modes. Today he displays influences ranging from Charlie Christian's pioneering jazz guitar virtuosity through virtually every phase to follow, from the cool to the outside edges of Jimi Hendrix's uncharted rock guitar experimentation. His instrumental vocabulary is extensive - to the point that he might take four solos in one song and attack each with a completely different technique.

Coryell could have no better partners in Wertico and Egan, who, perhaps not coincidentally, enjoyed lengthy tenures at different times with guitar innovator Pat Metheny.

"Obviously, I love jazz," said Wertico, who garnered seven Grammy Awards during his nearly two decades with Metheny. "I've always loved rock simultaneously. And I love to teach as well. To me, you really rediscover things and solidify concepts and discover new ones when you teach."

In the current climate - in which young drummers strive to play as fast as humanly possible while integrating technical chops for show as much as anything else - the veteran Wertico has stern advice.

"I tell my students, no matter what you study or how good your chops, you're part of a community when you play. You're not out there alone," he said. "It's a lot like life. You have a lot going on around you and it's not all about you."

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