In case you hadn’t noticed, even though it’s hard to miss, tribute acts have become all the rage by offering discounted versions of the material that lowest-common-denominator fans — especially of classic rock — can’t seem to get more than enough of. As a result, tributes are sadly turning up in South Florida concert venues and clubs that in previous years booked much more substantial artists.
But some tributes have thankfully sprung up to salute music that’s more challenging and adventurous. On a national level, Massachusetts-born drummer Jonathan Mover (whose credits include Joe Satriani, The Tubes, and Aretha Franklin) formed the quintet ProgJect — a nod to progressive rock icons like Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and Rush — in 2022.
Another drummer, West Palm Beach resident Tim Moss, chose roads even less traveled musically last year. His quintet, T’s Express, has a link on his personal Facebook page and salutes the banner work of jazz and fusion keyboardists and composers Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea (1941-2021).
Both legendary musicians emerged from the bands of traditional jazz trumpeter-turned-godfather of jazz/fusion Miles Davis (1926-1991), and though the keyboardists recorded material together afterward, their paths were often dissimilar. Corea’s compositions were always more exacting and technical, often fusing into Latin and classical terrain. Hancock’s are usually more improvisational, funky, and modern, as evidenced by his hip-hop-influenced 1983 hit single and video, “Rockit.”
So Moss, a longtime area freelance drummer, had to do some research in finding the right versatile personnel for the demanding project in keyboardist Tom Wierzbicki, saxophonist/flutist Carle Vickers, guitarist Adam Douglass, and bassist Mike Schweisthal.
“I had to cherry-pick the right players, and I think I have,” says Moss. “Tom studied classically and can play very technically. I’ve played jazz with him for about 10 years, and I figured if anyone could pull off both Chick and Herbie, he was the one. But it wasn’t until I found Mike that I thought I could put this thing together. I mentioned the idea to him, and he started naming all these Chick tunes. I knew I’d found my bassist.
“For guitar, I needed someone who could shred, but I didn’t want a rocker. I saw Adam’s band, and he was interested in auditioning, but I told him he already had. He was the guy. And Carle was someone I’d played with, so I knew where he was going to go, and that he’d be a good fit.”
A Bethlehem, Conn., native, Moss has a pretty direct connection to Corea’s music. He studied with Dave Weckl, the gifted musician who was Corea’s primary drummer of choice for most of his final 35 years, many with the keyboardist’s self-titled Elektric Band.
“Since the first time I heard Chick’s Elektric Band, I knew I wanted to be in a group like that,” Moss says. “But Weckl’s parts are obviously not easy. When I studied with Dave, he told me the only real difference between us was that he was practicing almost around the clock.
“He also said, ‘Start listening to music that doesn’t have drummers in it, and then play to that. But don’t play what you think I would play. Play what you would play.’ It was the greatest advice I’ve ever heard. We’re working on learning ‘Got a Match?’ by the Elektric Band now.”
Recent performances at Village Music in Wellington and Rudy’s in Lake Worth Beach showcased the versatility of T’s Express in tackling the often-disparate Hancock and Corea catalogs.
On the Hancock jazz standard favorite “On Green Dolphin Street” and his own composition “Cantaloupe Island,” Wierzbicki displayed the acoustic piano tones that Hancock became renowned for in the 1960s, when he began writing future standards himself.
Always open-minded, Hancock’s cover of gifted pop singer Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street” utilized the versatile Vickers’ tenor sax, plus Moss coming out from behind his drum kit, sitting out front, and playing a hand drum.
And “Watermelon Man,” from Hancock’s 1973 album Head Hunters — itself a funk/fusion update of the keyboardist’s own Latin-tinged 1962 hit-turned-standard — found Schweisthal nailing the tone and harmonics of Paul Jackson’s inventive and futuristic bass line.
Vickers’ flute on the Brazilian-influenced Corea standard “500 Miles High,” and alto sax on his shuffling “Blue Miles,” proved the perfect accompaniment to their different feels. And “Spain,” perhaps Corea’s best-known composition (often feared for the challenges it provides to musicians attempting it), got a roaring run-through thanks to the solos of Wierzbicki and Schweisthal.
Corea employed more guitarists (including Bill Connors, Al Di Meola, Frank Gambale, and West Palm Beach-born Scott Henderson) in his various ensembles than Hancock did, so it’s natural that Douglass also shined on the late composer’s pieces. Berklee College of Music-trained, his complex solos on the swinging “Morning Sprite” and playful “Armando’s Rhumba” (also highlighted by the creative soloing of Moss over the remaining band’s vamp) exploded.
“As we go through these Chick tunes,” Douglass says, “I’m finding that there are a lot of complicated lines that several of us are playing in unison. So mastering the exact timing of those phrases; memorizing them, and playing them in an ensemble setting is very challenging and rewarding. Herbie’s tunes, like one we’re rehearsing called ‘Actual Proof,’ are also difficult and rewarding, but he seems to come from a more organic and groove-oriented place as a composer.”
Moss has become a recognizable figure in area jazz circles, and the veteran drummer has never sounded better. One of his other recent stops was at Village Music in Wellington, where he played with Paul Simon’s Grammy-winning South African Graceland bassist Bakithi Kumalo to celebrate the music store and venue’s 10th anniversary.
If You Go
See T’s Express from 7-10 p.m. April 27 at Village Music, 10410 W. Forest Hill Blvd., Wellington (561-798-5334).