The title says it all here, as Chad Wackerman leads a crack group of musicians including ever-adventurous guitar virtuoso Allan Holdsworth through a complex and varied series of dynamics and tempos.
Throughout, Wackerman performs with an unerring sense of restraint. Instead, he becomes just another hurtling raindrop in this developing storm of fusion-rock (“A New Day,” “Star Gazing”), funk-rock (the free-form “Two For Ya,” “Brain Funk”), prog-rock (“Bent Bayou”) and plain old rock-rock. He’s even more impressive on quieter, more internalized pieces like “Waterways,” “Monsieur Vintage” and the album-closing “Invisible” — each of which, when placed in this bustling, often-quite-loud context, helps give Dreams, Nightmares and Improvisations a narrative momentum.
Of course, it’s Wackerman’s date, so he gets his turns in: First, there’s the solo rhythmic mysteries of “Glass Lullaby,” featuring Wackerman alongside a series of samples. Then, there’s “Rapid Eye Movement,” which (shhh!) actually includes a drum solo. But more often, Wackerman allows cohorts Holdsworth, keyboardist Jim Cox and bassist Jimmy Johnson plenty of room to stretch out — and to shine.
The result is an album that deftly recalls and then updates the throwback fusion forms of their earliest collaborations on Wackerman’s Forty Reasons in 1991. And it’s just as welcome now, even if their nuanced brand of fusion doesn’t stand out as much today as it did back when improvised music was dominated by either smooth-jazz snoozers or polished-up kids mimicking the old bebop giants.
Dreams, Nightmares and Improvisations is also a welcome reminder of Wackerman’s sometimes overlooked gifts — as a drummer, and as a band leader. After all, before he enjoyed a now-legendary stint with Frank Zappa, Wackerman had been a member of the Bill Watrous band. Since, he’s recorded and toured with Steve Vai, but also Men at Work. With Barbra Streisand, but also Andy Summers. With Joe Sample, but also Bill Bruford.
Wackerman’s records, like his playing, have the muscled propulsion of rock, but also the subtle acumen of jazz.