By Ed Enright | Published May 2021
Bassist Daniel Thatcher’s debut album as a leader features a quartet of Chicago-area musicians who bring his composer’s voice to life and amplify his life-affirming vision. His Waterwheel ensemble, which finds Thatcher in the company of drummer Devin Drobka and electric guitarists John Kregor and Matt Gold, flies in tight formation over the course of 10 originals that blur the lines separating jazz, chamber music and rock. The album opens with a burst of enthusiasm as Drobka’s crisp brushwork establishes an inviting groove on “Odds Are Even,” a track that toys with notions of mixed meter while maintaining a seamless flow. Thatcher’s instrumental voice comes to the fore on the harmonically and rhythmically inventive “Three Sages,” his profound foundational tones establishing a dirge-like vibe and a heavy-metal atmosphere that spawns spooky, shimmering guitar solos. The sun comes out in the rising melodic lines of “Albedo,” its syncopated jazz-waltz undercurrent brightening the mood even further. “Viscous” begins with sparse group improvisation and ventures into hard rock territory, the guitars ringing with tremolo, echo and other tone-altering effects. Waterwheel arrives at its most tender group moment on the lighthearted “Let’s Grow Old Together,” where Thatcher bows the tune’s down-home, soulful melody over a pretty backdrop of arpeggiated and sustained guitar soundscapes. Throughout the program, Gold and Kregor maintain a delicate balancing act, the guitarists dovetailing neatly as they share the air space above the Thatcher–Drobka bedrock. All four members of Waterwheel are eager, experienced improvisers who embrace freeplay and structured soloing with aplomb and enthusiasm. Thatcher has said that once he settled on this lineup of musicians to perform his compositions, new tunes started coming to him quickly. Let’s hope that trend continues and we hear more from this brilliant cast of genre-morphing empaths.