Photos for Wertico Cain & Gray (WCG). Right-click (PC) or Control-Click (Mac) on link to download (JPEG).

Wertico Cain & Gray – ‘Windows of Time’ (2021)

When Paul Wertico, David Cain and Larry Gray convene to make music, you never know what will come out of it because even the master drummer, saxophonist/keyboardist and bassist don’t know what will result. Indeed, “Wertico Cain & Gray” has become synonymous (in my mind, at least) with intensely creative improvisation.

For their eighth record Windows of Time, the music of the moment is this time created using a tactic necessitated by lockdown. Instead of improvising in the same spot at the same time, songs were often crafted around Wertico drum improvs that were later augmented by Cain & Gray and in any case, recorded apart. But it’s not like you’d know that from hearing these finished recordings, because the music heard on this record isn’t the music of apartness but of togetherness.

Beyond that, the greatest distinction of Windows of Time might be a greater adventurism through expanding the sound palette on keyboards. By using sample-loaded keys, Cain is able to virtually play any instrument that’s not bass, cello, drums or percussion, and make it sound convincingly like the real thing. “Peaceful Transformation” is led by an expertly fingerpicked acoustic guitar…or is it? Nah, that’s Cain giving us a convincing approximation. A virtual violin is prominent on “How Can I Know That Love Is Endless?” and a rockin’ guitar and violin vie with Gray’s rangy electric bass on “Watching The Tree Dance” as Wertico provides the ever-shifting pulse.

“By Way Of The Dream” is a synth-driven, Jan Hammer-esque groove while “I’ll Meet You There” rides on Wertico’s swing. Cain (on piano) and Gray react loosely to Wertico’s aggression on “Frontbeat Frontiers” until the latter settles into a muscular, rockin’ rhythm.

It’s Wertico alone on the tour de force “Time Well Served” While “Remembering Oneness” is Gray’s electric bass showcase.

“Chasing Illusions” and “Life Reimagined” are free improvs in the more conventional sense with Cain on electric piano, with all three playing on the same mind plane. Gray is fun to key in on, as his range is wide, he’s melodic and acts as the connective glue between Wertico and Cain.

Vocals aren’t off-limits for WC&G, and Cain can be heard singing — in a voice not too dissimilar to the late John Wetton — on “How Can I Know That Love Is Endless?,” “By Way Of The Dream,” and “I’ll Meet You There” with varying degrees of electronic alterations applied to them. They’re also weaved deep into the tapestry of the songs so they feel part of the instrumentation and not some layered-on, forced fit.

Once again, Wertico Cain & Gray make instant music with all the creativity and none of the mess, and they don’t even have to be in the same room to do it. Windows of Time is now available via all the usual music outlets. (review link)

Wertico Cain and Gray – ‘Without Compromise’ (2019)

For their seventh collaborative effort Without Compromise, drummer Paul Wertico, keyboardist/saxophonist David Cain and bassist Larry Gray repeat their prior formula of making technologically savvy improvised music without a script. It’s cutting edge sounds only made possible by tried-and-true qualities of instinct, musicianship and gumption, but for Without Compromise, they make that experience much more immersive.

This isn’t simply a music album, although it does come in high definition stereo mix with a 5.1 option available. Wertico Cain and Gray’s whole, 100% spontaneously created audio art is accompanied by video footage capturing the mad studio scientists at work in three different formats. 4k 360 VR, Dual HD Animated, and Flat Earth HD are the video presentations offered, with the former being particularly badassed. That’s because the 360-degree camera was positioned right in the middle of the Wertico Cain and Gray circle and the viewer can pan the camera around to view any of the three maestros at any time.

The hourlong performance itself is a musical sojourn, the kind that’s made much more rousing by the musicians not knowing — much less the listener — of what lies just ahead but just allowing things to unfold at a natural cadence. We hear Wertico light the fire at the start and soon after, Cain and Gray make the brushstrokes the finish the first permutation of an ever-evolving portrait.

What my ears tell me is that Wertico often plays the instigator, Cain the colorist and Gray is the harmonic center; the eyes confirm this. But all play the crucial role of listening closely to each other as they each astutely pick their spots to alternately hold back to digest the moment in anticipating the next one, and lunge ahead to influence the upcoming direction.

This isn’t a nonstop one hour but rather, a collection of distinctive performances. For the second track, the contemplative “Before It’s Too Late,” Gray is seen with a standup acoustic bass instead of the Fender bass he was wielding previously and on the following “Indelible Interactions,” Cain is blowing on a MIDI wind controller instrument (which emits some weirdly wonderful noises that makes Cain sound like Keith Emerson). Wertico will alternately drape his cymbals with t-shirts to control its resonance and take them off to increase it. For “The Mystery of Growth,” he applies mallets as Gray saws his double-bass, setting a tone that stands apart from other tracks. Gray even pulls out an effects-laden flute for one cut, and Wertico dispenses of his drums altogether for shakers on another. Not to mention those endless array of sounds Cain is capable of manipulating out of his software-driven keyboard.

For those more enamored by unplugged instrumentation, Wertico Cain and Gray offer up convincing sax/acoustic bass/drums free jazz jams “The Solution Is In Front of Us” and “Rejoice In Who We Are.”

Many of these adjustments big and small could easily go unnoticed but actually witnessing the multitude of little things that goes into making music on the fly is remarkable and increases appreciation of the end product. Nothing was spared in making this a rich listening and viewing experience, a stunning blend of virtuosity and technology.

And now, you know why this album is named Without Compromise. (review link)

Wertico, Cain & Gray – Realization (2016)

When I first heard “Don’t Bother Me About Project Management” with its clinical groove, acoustic bass, and its agile, active rhythms, the last thing that occurred to me was that this perfectly balanced mesh of acoustic and computerized was devised live and suddenly, with no forethought. Or, that it was created as part of a visual presentation. But it was — as was the rest of Realization — by Paul Wertico, David Cain and Larry Gray.

The drummer, keyboardist/saxophonist and bassist/cellist have convened several times over the last few years to make music this way, to which Cain attaches rich, digital visualizations. Realization is the fourth of their spontaneous audio/video presentations, practicing an old method to create art with no fallback but with some new, technological twists.

This go around has a little bit of a twist of its own: for the first time, they are birthing music in a studio (The S.N. Shure Theater and Reelsounds of Chicago). Each of these studio dates make up the front and back end of the album, connected performances that effectively make up two suites.

Realization achieves flight from the undeniable connection among the three. As an eighteen-year member of the Pat Metheny Group, Wertico is not just plenty experienced with handling tricky, unpredictable situations, he thrives in those settings. Gray (Ramsey Lewis, Jack DeJohnette, Dennis DeYoung) is not only virtuosic on electric and acoustic basses, he contributes cello and flute, too. Cain’s breadth of artistry spans even wider: in addition to keyboards, synthesizers, an iPad and a red sax, this composer has leveraged technology in other areas, like digital cinema, and he draws heavily from this diverse skill set to bring these projects to a dazzling completion.

The first set whips up a progressive world fusion stew that’s Jean Michel Jarre meets King Crimson meets Weather Report. “A Distorted View In A Peaceful Garden” just floats within a space jungle, where underneath Cain’s electro noises are Gray’s submerged acoustic bass rumblings and Wertico’s soft rumbling of toms. Turns out, this mood piece is a soothing prelude to the driving groove of “Today I Have Seen It,” featuring Cain’s breathless vocal, an art-rock piece that wouldn’t be out of place alongside the Talking Heads song. Gray’s flute weaves inside and outside of Cain’s Amazonian synth swirls on “Being In And Out,” returning to the serene mood established on “Peaceful Garden,” but later on Cain up a sax and after an intense, free-form release, the trio softly lands into an acoustic, easy jazz swing,

There are some moments that are more overtly spontaneous, such as the jangled “Eavesdropping On A Train,” with Gray’s cello remarks soon joined by Cain’s electro remarks, setting up a clash of the past with the modern, and Wertico is there to push along their impulse with his fleet brushes. “Life In The Modern World” is an impetuous showcase for Cain’s high-tech noise collage while “To Beat Or Not To Beat” is a Wertico-only presentation of his boss drumming.

Except for “Management,” the band acts more like a jazz band than a fusion band for the Reelsounds session, albeit one with an unrestrained bent. Then again, injection of the modernized world fusion elsewhere is so in keeping with jazz principles, it doesn’t disturb the vibe in the least when Cain picks up his fx-altered red sax and the three don their acoustic trio hats, as they do for the last three tracks. They speed up for the final leg of this sequence “We’re Outta Here!”, putting a vaudevillian/Fred Anderson coda to the whole album.

Going by gut instincts made it easier for Wertico, Cain & Gray to avoid falling into predictable patterns and conventions. The elusive but exciting Realization shows how original and visionary music from original and visionary musicians can be when all the constraints are lifted. (review link)

Wertico Cain and Gray – Out in Space (2014)

With Out in Space, Paul Wertico, a seven-time Grammy winner who rose to fame with the Pat Metheny Group, expands on the successes of last year’s collaboration with David Cain.

Intriguingly enough, you could say this success represents addition by subtraction. Whereas 2013’s Feast for the Senses featured Wertico and Cain working with a series of collaborative voices, their new project – a completely improvised date recorded live in concert at Evanston Space last August – finds this duo working exclusively with multi-instrumentalist Larry Gray. His ability to fit into their ever-shifting imaginative leaps adds new colors, and a greater focus, to the proceedings. Together, Wertico Cain and Gray sound of a piece – like old friends finishing each other’s sentences.

And these are very, very interesting sentences.

“Sounds Born of Silence” begins in a manner befitting its title, as Wertico Cain and Gray take up their instruments in a twilit quietude. Slowly, the rustle of rhythm begins, a contemplative bass line from Gray, other ambient asides. Then Cain, who also plays sax and synths, whispers the project’s first lyric – adding a rasping addendum to this growing mystery. “Silence” then slowly coalesces into a visceral moment of longing, with Cain adding a serpentine reed line even as Wertico becomes more active on his drum set, mimicking the rising pulse of passion. They play with space and silence, and not for the first time, allowing the darkness to billow up all around, before the trio bursts out with a torrent of sound and fury. Then, just as quickly as it caught fire, “Sounds Born of Silence” settles back into a remarkable stillness.

“Sonic Continuum” emerges next with a series of scronky keyboard figures, building a celestial bridge toward “Trying to Remember to Forget” – which then starts with a drive by across the edge of universe. Wertico Cain and Gray unleash a veritable explosion of fusion noise, but the track eventually settles back into an active music bed for Cain’s latest ruminations in voice and horn. Gray provides a deeply grooved foundation for these excursions, playing with a greasy feel and then effortlessly taking over the spotlight for a contemplative solo turn.

“The Crooked Road” seems to grow directly out of “Sonic Continuum,” building on those blurts of synth with an angular rhythm signature from Wertico. Gray concludes things with an appropriately mechanized approach on the bass. “Drunk by Noon (And Then Some),” rather than arriving with the perhaps expected level of boozy lackadaisicalness, instead continues exploring this otherworldly atmosphere – with whirling keyboards, chirping outbursts of bass, and assorted alien-like bleats as an accompaniment. It’s only when Gray switches to a swooning cello, toward the song’s end, that things seems to become appropriately alcoholic. Even then, Wertico Cain and Gray find a way to shake things up with these odd-handedly improvisational moments in sound.

“Narrow Passageways” arrives not unlike the opening track on Out in Space, appearing as if on a distant horizon and then moving ever forward. As the track begins to take on more definition, its strange contours suggest fear – or, at the very least, uncertain melancholy. Then Cain takes up his horn, and the song traces a deeper emotional narrative – one of dreamscape mystery, helped along by the vaguely Middle Eastern lope of Wertico and Gray. “This Place Called Home,” propelled this time by Gray’s turn on the flute, continues along this deeply alluring path – enveloping the listener in a magical sense of wonder and intrigue.

Wertico’s furtive cadence points, at first, to a similar destination for “My Say for the Day,” but he eventually ramps up into a thunderously layered performance at the drums. Cain and Gray then combine to create an insectile opening statement on “Condition Unknown,” with bass and keys suggesting the long-form math of modern prog, before “Elements Gone By” – the trio’s closing track in this ever-entertaining live set – arrives via a final vocal turn from Cain. Layering his own scats over a repeatedly echoing verse, he is eventually joined by Gray and Wertico for what becomes a scorching final excursion into free-form, completely symbiotic creativity. (review link)

David Cain, with Paul Wertico – Feast for the Senses (2013)

An evening of improvised music becomes a thrilling journey into the imaginations of multi-instrumentalist David Cain and Grammy-awarding winning drummer Paul Wertico. Every time you think you’ve got this one nailed down, Feast for the Senses – which more than lives up to its title’s lofty promises – takes another astonishing turn.

For instance, “If I Could Get One Answer” begins with the sort of coiled, darkly mysterious fusion that fueled Miles Davis’ early-1970s recordings. Trumpeter Davis Hoffman, who served as soloist and arranger for 13 years with the Ray Charles Orchestra, is featured over an undulating electric keyboard signature – creating a tension and intrigue familiar to anyone who’s delved into that period of Davisiana.

But this is no straight-ahead fusion record.

“If I Could Get One Answer” continues to evolve in competing fashions: There is, at first, the addition of a nostalgic, keyboard-based steel drum effect and then – in an early signal of the way that Cain and Co. are going to push at the edges of convention here – a scalding electric guitar solo from Howard Freitag. There follows a mesmerizing, otherworldly sequence of electronic outbursts via Cain’s WX wind controller, and then the first of a series of stream-of-consciousness vocal lines – again from Cain, who wears a chapeau shop’s worth of hats on this tune alone.

“Take Away Everything” begins with a scat line from Cain, which sparks a skittering counterpoint from Wertico. Soon, bassist Jim Cloney joins, and the song begins to take shape with a series of soaring effects: An echoing, ever-expanding sax, a keyboard’s blurt. Wertico’s determined cadence holds it all together, even as the track threatens to slip from its own earthly bonds. Cain’s lyric, again on a theme of searching and of loss, finally halts the swirling theme. With only Wertico again playing in tandem, “Take Away Everything” draws to a subdued close that’s just as stunning, in its way – like awakening from a particularly turbulent dream to utter silence.

Cain then offers an introspective, deeply mystical comment on love, before Hoffman opens “Shells of Things” on the conch. As with “If I Could Get One Answer,” however, Cain’s roving imagination quickly emboldens the composition in the most intriguing of ways: Freitag, last heard shredding with a determined fury, offers a series of brooding asides, while Wertico and Hoffmann (now back on the electric piano) begin a fascinating conversation. Even as Cain begins his word poem again, Hoffman begins constructing a simply amazing canvas of textures and feels all around him, running his trumpet through a keyboard to create these hypnotizing sheets of sound. Cain eventually joins him, again on the WX wind controller, for what promises to be a volcanic conclusion.

Instead, Hoffmann returns to the conch shells, as Wertico quiets his kit, and the song vanishes into the ether of “The Twisted Screen,” a weirdly transfixing sequence of spacey noises. “The Hoogland Waltz” emerges from the same spooky haze, with Hoffman again poised before an echoing, deep-space trumpet. Wertico’s insistent pulse gives the tune an angry grandeur, which then gives way to his polyrhythmic explorations on the showcase tune “Even the Kitchen Sink.”

Cain takes up the sax again on “Looking for Your Face,” offering an unsettling series of declamations – tuneful, and then outside, swinging and then hectoring – before giving way to the underwater explorations of Freitag’s wah-wah pedal and then an absolutely idyllic piano solo. It’s a sign of what’s to come, as “And Fly Forever” concludes Feast for the Senses with one more surprise: Cain’s final thought-provoking monologue is accompanied not by a concluding splash of instrumental bombast, but in this pillowy ambiance. (review link)

Wertico Cain & Gray improvise music and have fun doing it | Community Voices
NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS | By Vanessa Ferguson

Wertico Cain & Gray is a musical trio made up of Paul Wertico, David Cain and Larry Gray. Springfield musician David Cain and seven-time Grammy Award-winner Paul Wertico spoke to Community Voices about their new album, “Windows of Time,” which was recorded live and completely improvised. Listen to the interview.

Nakedly Examined Music Podcast:
Interview by Mark Linsenmayer. 

Paul Wertico and David Cain: Improv Without a Net. Seven-time Grammy winning drummer Paul Wertico and his multi-instrumentalist/filmmaker/soundscaper cohort David Cain are two-thirds of Wertico, Cain and Gray, an improvisational trio who have released five albums since 2013… (interview link)

David Cain – Meditations (2018)

When a pianist sits in front of piano without a score in front of him or in his mind, what comes forth is not so much music but a window into his soul. We’ve certainly seen a lot of the soul of Keith Jarrett a lot over the years and several other noted jazz piano players such as Chick Corea (I’m thinking of his 1971 Piano Improvisations volumes). Now David Cain has taken his turn at soul-baring with the pertinently titled Meditations.

These nineteen vignettes follow a natural flow — occasionally even a groove — and make no distinction between dulcet and dissonant. As these solo improvised adventures tend to be, Meditations really defies categorization; it might nominally be called ‘jazz’ just from the improvised nature of it, but Cain isn’t trying to tackle a style, just gut sentiment. When playing from the gut, the prime influences tend to reveal themselves and in Cain’s case, he had his mentor and teacher the late Roque Cordero in mind. Cordero had lived in the USA for the last 42 of his 91 years as a composer, conductor, writer and educator and but is widely regarded as the foremost composer of his native Panama.

Only two selections are not brief; “Sea Is Salt” and “Seven Sails,” during which Cain mixes in a staggered sequence of chords with nearly-free passages, whereas the former performance’s ‘free’ moment briefly occurs in the middle.

That’s the story of Meditations in a nutshell but there’s also a story behind the story. We previously covered Cain a few times as part of the electro-acoustic improv trio Wertico Cain & Gray, and marveled at their savvy at “practicing an old method to create art with no fallback but with some new, technological twists.” Even in this solo piano setting, Cain finds ways to leverage technology: the instrument he plays here is not actually an acoustic piano, it only sounds exactly like one. It’s a ROLI Seaboard with grand piano instrument audio plugins.

Cain Takes on the Wild West with Waves.
Composer mixes latest jazz trio album in surround.


“Our most recent project, Without Compromise, is a live studio session of improvised music compositions which we recorded using vintage mics, including a U47 that belonged to John Lennon. We also captured an 8k VR 360 video of the session to put the viewer/listener in the middle of the studio, exactly seven feet from Paul, Larry and myself,” says Cain.

Eurovision Broadcast Dives into Waves
“With Waves Nx, I was able to move confidently into the Wild West of surround, in that Nx enables hearing stereo, surround and ambisonic experiences. It’s a very powerful way to expand my workflow.”

He adds, “My studio reference monitors are an essential element in my work, but I love working on my Shure 1840 headphones because I can get immersed in the sonic experience and minimize outside interruptions or room noises. I like the perceptual and proximity effect of the Nx’s flow to experiment and embrace new ideas and technologies. With Waves’ Nx, I’m able to get into stereo and 3D space with my trusty Shure 1840s, and I like to use these headphones to fine-tune my mixes.”

Waves Nx Virtual Mix Room is a virtual monitoring plug-in that delivers immersive 3D audio on headphones. The plug-in recreates the acoustics of a high-end studio inside the headphones, and additionally enables the user to mix for 7.1, 5.1 or 5.0 surround on regular stereo headphones.

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“I have always loved to experiment and embrace new ideas and technologies,” says Cain. “Producers and engineers such as George Martin and Teo Macero pushed the envelope in amazing ways with the technology of the day. I’m trying to do the same with my music, mixes, videos, and Waves plug-ins. Nx puts me in the room(s) of my choice: stereo, surround or ambisonic.” (original story link)

Waves Audio •

Life. Music. Are all a series of conversations. Paul Wertico, David Cain & Larry Gray discuss their new album, REALIZATION, and share insights about spontaneous music, improvisation, collaboration, recording, tradition, new technology… (recorded at the Jazz Showcase, Chicago, December 5, 2015)

Creativity in music defines jazz studies professor and students. A new and innovative CD featuring 40 short improvisations by the Chicago-area trio Wertico Cain & Gray reflects the kind of philosophy that Roosevelt University professor Paul Wertico embraces in his teaching at Roosevelt’s Chicago College of Performing Arts (CCPA). Read more

Making music on the fly
By Tom Irwin – Illinois Times

On Saturday the Hoogland Center for the Arts hosts David Cain & Senses featuring percussionist Paul Wertico in a program called A Feast for the Senses. The dinner features Chef Shaun Moore with Arena Catering and the music puts Wertico, Cain and the other musicians in a creative place of on-the-spot music making. I don’t get out much so I had never heard of the 7-time Grammy Award-winning drummer (for his work with Pat Metheny Group) and did some research before heading over to Cain’s Umedia in the art center for a talk with David and Paul.

A quick overview shows the stunning amount of good stuff Wertico has accomplished as an internationally renowned musician living in Chicago. His 2010 recording received 4 1/2 stars (yes, out of 5) in jazz music’s famous Downbeat magazine, he is a reader poll winner in Modern Drummer and DRUM! magazines and an assistant professor at Chicago’s Roosevelt University where he resides as head of Jazz and Contemporary Music Studies. Cain, who has been twice nominated on the early balloting for a Grammy, speaks highly of his newfound comrade.

“He’s a great guy and really passionate about making music,” says Cain. “Once I was thinking about who my favorite drummer to collaborate with would be, so I reached out to Paul and he got right back to me.”

After some online communications early in 2012, Wertico asked Cain to collaborate on a program called Vivid he was producing at the Auditorium Theater through his Roosevelt University position. They immediately bonded through a mutual respect for improvisation and creativity.

“Without Dave’s input on the Vivid program there would have been a huge gap in what I saw as my final vision,” said Wertico. “We just worked together so well and he’s a great guy, I thought, Jeez, we got to keep this going.”

When I asked for an idea of how the music would go Saturday, both guys laughed a bit before getting down to the tricky task of explaining the ins and outs of making completely improvisational music.

“The amazing thing is that Paul and I are like kindred spirits and we have all these synchronicities in our lives. I think that common thread of embracing our humanity, our soulfulness, our artistic expressions . . . it just comes out,” explains Cain. “We have all these different instruments on stage, including a kitchen sink, plus an improvisational dancer. It’s just that excitement of all these different stimuli going at once.”

“The main thing is not to worry that the show will be a mess. It’s like cooking, I don’t use books – I like to improvise, but I know enough not to put things like cornflakes and spaghetti together with maple syrup and olive oil,” mused Wertico. “I’ve done things like this my whole life. When you work with people who are good at this, you make something out of nothing that’s totally unique and will never happen again. That’s what we do.”

Wertico and Cain continued the discussion of making music on the fly and how exciting and rewarding improvisation can be for both the audience and the players. Comparisons to painting came up and the idea of using instruments as brushes to “paint” impressions of music became a vivid and strong image in explaining the feelings.

“The art of making something out of nothing is what we do. People can expect the beauty of chaos where anything goes,” said Wertico. “It’s so great to bring something beautiful out of humanity through playing music. You can see it in the eyes of listeners. I guess that’s why we do it.” (interview link)

Jazz Trio Wins Award For Springfield Recording
NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS | By Associated Press

A Chicago-based jazz trio has earned an award for an album recorded live during a performance at a Springfield theater.

The trio of Paul Wertico, David Cain and Larry Gray recorded their album “Sound Portraits” last summer at the Hoogland Center for the Arts. It won top honors for a live performance at the annual Independent Music Awards given out on Tuesday.

Wertico is a seven-time Grammy Award winner who teaches jazz studies at Roosevelt University in Chicago. He says the performance was 100 percent improvised and came “spontaneously from the heart.”

The album was one of thousands of entries submitted for the awards selection. The group is currently editing and mixing a performance at the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, which Wertico says inspired the music. (story link)

Musicians Create “Sound Portraits”
NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS | By Rachel Otwell

Combining audio and visual effects, three Illinois musicians have joined up to create an act that defies conventional genres. Listen to the interview here.

The trio plays a host of electronic and acoustic instruments – everything from saxophone, to cello, to the iPad. The group recently released an album that is 100% improvised, as well as a DVD of those performances. They call their production, “Sound Portraits”. The three will be performing live again on August 31 as part of the Chicago Jazz Festival.

WCG – Facebook Band Page

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