Weather Report: Live in Germany 1971
There's plenty of freedom to be found on this wonderfully spartan performance, where Romao's assorted percussionranging from tambourines and triangles to berimbau and a pair of wooden shoes that he brings together with reckless abandon at the start of the 48-minute setis laid out on a plain wooden table that looks as though it was grabbed from Radio Bremen's lunch room. Playing more than half of the material from its debut album, the group heads into ethereal, almost pastoral (were it not for a certain foreboding undercurrent) territory, especially early in the set on a version of "Orange Lady" so radically altered as to be nearly unrecognizable; this, after an equally transformed version of the more assertive "Umbrellas." Vitous was always somewhat generic on electric bass (one reason why, ultimately, he had to go), but his acoustic bass workespecially when playing with a bowwas another matter altogether. To this day, few bassists possess Vitous' instantly recognizable tone and lithe dexteritycharacteristics that the bassist has continued to demonstrate as recently as Molde Jazz 2010, in performance with guitarist Terje Rypdal and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Combined with Romao's delicate hand bells and bird whistles, Zawinul's chiming Fender Rhodes and Shorter's soaring soprano, it's Weather Report at its most transcendent.
From left: Alphonse Mouzon, Dom Um Romao, Joe Zawinul
Elsewhere, in the 10-minute ending medley that includes one of Zawinul's most enduring classics, "Dr Honoris Causa," Mouzon brings out the funk in ways that his successor, Eric Gravatt, simply never could (or, at least, did)explaining, perhaps, why Live in Tokyo is a more turbulent affair overall, that now appears to be a wonderful but still evolutionarily curious mid-point between this incarnation of Weather Report and the one that would record Sweetnighter a couple years later. The Weather Report heard and seen on this DVD pushes draws a far straighter line to Zawinul's days with Adderley than ever beforeMouzon even singing briefly, with bluesy convictionbut the keyboardist's "everybody solos and nobody solos" aesthetic remains firmly in place, as well as the unfettered adventurous spirit that, by the time of Tale Spinnin' (Columbia, 1975), would largely become a thing of the past.
With unadorned visuals and a clean and crisp stereo mix, Live in Germany 1971 isn't just important as the only commercially available video documentation of a super group in its infancy; it matters because it alters previous perceptions about where the group was at this particular point in time. At a time when the word "fusion" was neither dirty, nor loaded down with the baggage which would soon hobble at least some of its creative potential, Weather Report was combining improvisational freedom, European classicism and electrified energy with a predilection for rock and funk-infected groove in a way that brings a whole lot more sense to what, at the time, seemed more like paradigm shift than logical evolution with Sweetnighter. As seminal as I Sing the Body Electric remains (especially Zawinul's stunning opener, "Unknown Soldier"), with the unearthed evidence of Live in Germany 1971 it seems likelyor, at the very least, possiblethat the album deflected from the core premises that drove the group from inception; essentials that are now in full view on this short, but extremely sweet, archival find.
Tracks: Umbrellas; Orange Lady; Waterfall; Seventh Arrow; TH; Morning Lake; Improvised Medley, Including Dr Honoris Causa.
Personnel: Joe Zawinul: keyboards; Wayne Shorter: tenor and soprano saxophones; MIroslav Vitous: electric and acoustic bass; Alphonse Mouzon: drums, vocal; Dom Um Romao: percussion.
Photos captured from Weather Report: Live in Germany 1971, courtesy of MVD/Gonzo Distribution.