Legs Eleven

  • Chad Wackerman : drums and percussion
  • James Muller: guitar
  • Leon Gaer : bass
  • Daryl Pratt :vibraphone, marimba and synths

      Drummer/composer Chad Wackerman, who has worked for artists such as Frank Zappa, Allan Holdsworth, Steve Vai, John Patitucci, Barbra Streisand and James Taylor has released a new CD of 10 original compositions which feature his Australian band.

      The group has a unique sound, not only due to the strong personalities of the musicians, but also by the nature of the instrumentation. By using electric guitar and vibraphone (which vibist Daryl Pratt triggers synthesiser sounds from), the group has a very strong sonic identity. Vibraphone is traditionally used in older style jazz, but Chad's group incorporates it in an edgy modern setting. It blends beautifully James Muller's guitar, and adding synthesisers to the vibes makes the sonic possibilities endless.

      All the compositions are quite strict as far as the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic structures are concerned. The melodic sections are fixed, much like classical music. Itıs the solo sections where the musicians have the ability to be creative and spontaneous, to take the music somewhere surprising. The band improvises at a very high level and it is the chemistry between these players which adds to the excitement of the CD.

      The recording is also interesting because of the drum and percussion pieces, which are placed between longer band compositions. Wackerman says "I think it's so important to use contrast in music. On Legs Eleven, I chose to place percussion pieces in between some of the tunes. It really clears the air a bit and gives your ears something rhythmic to grab onto. I also think this frames the melodic tunes in a way that is quite unique".

      When asked how Chad composes music he replies, "I write using a keyboard and I use my computer, but only as a tool. Once I have the chords and melody I can easily experiment with voicings or try new bass notes under the chords. When Iım happy with the way the music is sounding I write out the charts for the musicians. Some of this music we have been performing for a while in our live shows, but about 75 per cent of the music is brand new".

      Legs Eleven was recorded and produced entirely in Sydney, and Chad believes this had an impact on the project. "It's very hard for me to separate the music I play with the way I feel and my surroundings - especially music that has improvisational elements in it. My experiences and influences naturally creep in. I'm originally from Southern California, but I've lived in Sydney for the past ten years, so it has had an effect on the way I write. I've even named some of the pieces after places in Sydney, such as Newtown and Field of Mars. The tunes Tangara and Sophies Beach also have strong connections to Sydney."

      Chad also considers his musicians when composing. "I remember Frank Zappa saying that if you have someone in the band who can do something special, you'd be crazy not to utilize it in the show. The musicians in this group are quite amazing and I try to incorporate what they do into my music. This also gives the pieces more of a signature and personal character".

      Wackerman feels that this CD differs from his last effort, Scream. "The band has played together for seven years now, so there is a greater understanding of each other musically. Some of the music on Legs Eleven has more of a groove throughout, and there are some tunes that take on a darker quality. I overdubbed quite a lot of percussion colors and also wrote for marimba in some of the tunes, which gives the album a new flavor".

      About the music;

      SOPHIE'S BEACH This track starts with a very innocent, flowing feel in 3/4 while the chorus changes into 4/4 and solos shift between the two sections. The haunting melody toward the end eventually becomes quite tumultuous with an improvised drum solo playing over the band vamp.

      SPIRAL Spiral starts with the African talking drum and lots of metal percussion (gongs, finger cymbals and a spinning Roto Cymbal). It has a moody, dark funk groove. This song has a broken up, minimal melody with lots of space in between the phrases. The tune features a fine guitar solo by James Muller.

      LEGS ELEVEN The title track of the CD is a short percussion piece using four small melodic tom toms with bass drum accents. Chad improvised a pass of the four drums in 11/16 time, then recorded an Udu (a unique drum played with hands that has two holes for pitch bending) as a solo voice on top of the eleven rhythms. By overdubbing, the effect is like a duet. When Chad played this track to Leon Gaer, he came up with the title 'Legs Eleven', which is a term used in bingo.

      WHERE YOU COME FROM A dramatic intro goes into a lush ballad in 3/4. The solo section changes into 4/4 and also changes mood. The guitar solo builds the song and then returns to the melody.

      NEWTOWN A diverse area of Sydney, and musically this piece goes through some diversity of its own. Starts as a light reggae feel in 3, ends with a great vibes and guitar solo over some dense chords that build very gradually.

      NO TIME LIKE THE FUTURE This opens with an improvised drum solo which melts into the rubato melody. Time is established and the players jump in one at a time into a free, improvised solo section where they really show off their creativity and listening skills. James and Daryl play stellar solos, each building through chord changes, which lifts the music to another level. After the vibes solo itıs back to the rubato melody again, but with much more intensity towards the end of the piece.

      TANGARA This tune is based on a train ride ­ the Tangara is a train that runs through Sydney. Lots of smooth scene changes happen musically, but the rhythm groove just keeps on relentlessly. Interesting sounds from Darylıs vibes triggering steel drum sounds, and the guitar though a rotary Leslie effect, add to the motion of this powerful track.

      FIELD OF MARS This tune is open, minimal and spacious with a fretless bass ostinato. Field Of Mars definitely has a jazz influence as far as the cymbal work and looseness of the feel are concerned. The bridge becomes very lush harmonically and shifts into 7/4. The vibes, marimba, fretless bass and clean guitar sound help the mood of space and minimalism.

      RHYTHM CLOCK Based on a 12/8 African feel, this short drum set and percussion piece features melodic tom toms rolling the melody which is doubled with thick metal sound disks. The overall effect resembles a percussion ensemble with sheets of sound.

      BALANCING ACTS We hear the guitar start with a greasy, New Orleans feel, but in 7/4 time. The mood shift of the bridge in 5/4 time is reminiscent of something quite classical. This dramatic contrast happens a few times and the guitar solo soars beautifully over the arpeggiated background chords. The drum solo section gets very dark in spirit as tension grows and grows. The drum solo ends and the band finishes on their own with a suspended arpeggio.

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