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When Jaco was good, he was very, very good. The best, in fact. Of course, when he was bad he could be horrid, as innumerable lousy bootleg CDs from his waning years testify. But when he was peaking, no one could hold a candle to Jaco Pastorius’ bass artistry. At those times he was indeed, as he insisted, the World’s Greatest Bass Player. Which makes it all the stranger that this tribute album was released over ten years after his tragic death. Everyone on this all-star collection was deeply influenced by Jaco in some way, be it his bass prowess, adventurous spirit, or unpredictable but endearing personality. The album’s title is a Kojak catchphrase that Jaco loved to use around friends and strangers alike, reflecting just a bit of the extraordinary, uninhibited, fearless character known as Jaco.
This album contains six of Jaco’s own compositions, one Joe Zawinul tune that he made famous during his Weather Report tenure, three separate tributes written by his friends, and a special Jimi Hendrix song that Jaco liked to quote in live performances. The Hendrix tune starts the disc off, the solitary groan of John Patitucci’s acoustic bass pounding out the main riff. Originally a drummer, Jaco never played the upright bass, always sticking to the electric Fender Jazz bass guitar of which he became the everlasting icon. But he was a tremendous inspiration to Patitucci and his spirit certainly flows through the piece. "A Remark You Made", the Weather Report classic, is made more poignant by Gil Goldstein’s wistful accordion while Mark Egan and Bill Evans recapture all the tenderness that Jaco and Wayne Shorter infused into the original. Jaco developed his own signature tone on the fretless bass by finger-picking down close to the bridge pickup and boosting its volume. Mark Egan’s sound here is a striking echo of the Jaco style that has since become the standard J-Bass tone. I’m glad that this piece was selected instead of Birdland. While that will always be the Weather Report song most people associate with Jaco, it’s been recorded ad nauseam by everyone from Manhattan Transfer to Maynard Ferguson; enough is enough. "Continuum" is perhaps Pastorius’ most famous composition, a high-range bass feature which he performed and recorded in numerous incarnations, varying the structure of the piece to suit his mood at the time. Victor Bailey revisits the original version from Jaco’s self-titled debut album, a record that seriously rocked the world of musicians everywhere in 1976.
Next come two different tribute tunes. The first, by former Gil Evans keyboardist Gil Goldstein, is a comfortable jazz ride reminiscent of several of Jaco’s post-Weather Report tunes. It features Egan again, tenorist Bob Mintzer and guitarist Mike Stern, whose work here and elsewhere on the disc is forceful and majestic. Next is a contrasting piece by Patitucci wherein the bassist and guitarist Steve Cardenas interweave delicate, nostalgic lines of melody. "Okonkole Y Trompa" is a richly brocaded Afro-Latin piece from Jaco’s debut, headed up by Randy Brecker on flugelhorn and supported by ethereal keyboards, Don Alias’ percolating percussion, and later the pummeling drums of Peter Erskine. The vocals on the original version of "Come On, Come Over" were performed by soul legends Sam & Dave and are revisited here by longtime David Letterman cohorts Will Lee and Hiram Bullock. Lee also lays down the bass funk in droves as this party boogies on.
Randy Brecker returns with pianist Bob Moses for "Three Views of a Secret", from the first album by Jaco’s Word Of Mouth big-band project. Brecker’s muted trumpet and Cardenas’ brittle guitar dredge out all the beauty and darkness from the tripartite theme."Dania" is a Latin-flavored sprint with Mintzer, Egan and Bullock at the helm. The omnitalented Marcus Miller plays bass, keyboards, bass clarinet and drum machines as he lovingly interprets "Portrait of Tracy", another beloved Jaco tune. Its comely melody is sprinkled liberally with true and false harmonics, difficult techniques which Pastorius’ double-jointed thumbs and extra-long fingers made easier for him but horrendous for copycats. The disc closes with a final tribute composed by Peter Erskine. It features Bob James’ lyrical piano and David Sanborn’s warm alto, which sounds a bit nasal here due to the production.
As excellent as these performances are, especially Mark Egan’s, the disc makes us aware of just what a loss Jaco’s death was to the music. Bass players across the globe still draw deep from the well of his influence, yet there was something about his style that no one else can quite pin down. Maybe it’s a part of his quixotic personality that emerged through those fleet fingers. At any rate, if you know Jaco’s music you will probably treasure this disc. And if you’re not familiar with the World’s Greatest Bass Player yet, this disc will give you many reasons to explore his legacy.
Track Listing: Third Stone From The Sun; A Remark You Made; Continuum; Jaco; Fall
Personnel: (Collective:) John Patitucci, Mark Egan, Victor Bailey, James Genus, bass; Will Lee, bass and vocals; Marcus Miller, bass and various other instruments; Michael Brecker, Bill Evans, Bob Mintzer, Chris Hunter, tenor saxophone; Andy Snitzer, David Sanborn, alto saxophone; Randy Brecker, trumpet and flugelhorn; Jim Hynes, trumpet; Michael Davis, trombone; Joey Calderazzo, Bob James, piano; George Whitty, Gil Goldstein, Kevin DeSimone, Michael Colina, Jim Beard, keyboards; Mike Stern, Steve Cardenas, guitar; Hiram Bullock, guitar and vocals; Jeff