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Another key turning point in the colorful evolution of Weather Report. Around the same time that Alphonso Johnson replaced founding bassist Miroslav Vitous in 1974, the band moved towards a new sound centered around electronic instruments and studio experimentation. The vital funk and soul grooves that Johnson brought into the band helped them pull off that extreme paradigm shift. Black Market is part of a reissue trilogy (along with Tale Spinnin' and Mysterious Traveller ) with which Columbia/Legacy honors the now-neglected Al Johnson years. In 1976 Johnson departed and another bass legend took the throne: Jaco Pastorius. Black Market documents the effects of that momentous personnel change, as both bassists perform here on different tracks. For that reason, not to mention the top quality of the performances, this is a most welcome reissue.
Besides the revolving door of bass, Weather Report always had a helluva time maintaining a steady drummer. Ex-Zappa sideman Chester Thompson was as fine a choice as any for the couple of years he served, and this disc shows just how suited his approach was to the Report's overall sound. The second track, however, features the almost equally fluid Narada Michael Walden instead, and the title track features both of the drummers in turn. Their technical prowess and bare restraint help propel the insistent groove, one of the band's most memorable works. The long fade-in is kind of annoying, but once the tune arrives it grabs onto your frontal lobe and won't let go. Johnson's snaky, sweaty bass groove is another highlight of the song, and it points toward the more prominent role that Pastorius would soon demand for the bass.
"Cannon Ball" is our first introduction to the profound lyricism of Jaco, and what an impression his first statement makes. The tune is an homage to Cannonball Adderley, Zawinul's late ex-boss, delivered with appropriate tenderness by all parties. "Gibraltar" is one of the keyboardist's signature multi-layered themes, beginning with the sounds of a ship's horn and building up to a lovely soprano theme from Shorter. Zawinul infuses "Elegant People" with all manner of exotic noises and timbres, and Johnson's octave-jumping ostinato locks in perfectly with the drumbeat; the bassist similarly grabs onto Zawinul's shirtwaist for the seductive "Three Clowns."
Pastorius wrote the classic "Barbary Coast," which begins with a train passing by, sounds that inspire the bone-crushing funk of his bass line. This is definitely Jaco's show and it serves as a premonition of the increasingly imperious role he would play in the band. By comparison, Johnson's WR swansong, "Herandnu," seems tame despite its 11/4 complexity. It's an amazing piece nonetheless, with Shorter's tenor and Zawinul's variegated keyboards rising and falling with the rhythmic tide. When Shorter switches to Lyricon his more powerful statements mesh perfectly with the rhythm section, and Johnson's metal-guitarish blasts a few minutes in are astonishing. It's a high-water mark in the freedom-within-structure aesthetic that the Report strived so hard to accomplish, and one heck of a strong parting shot for Al Johnson. A must-own.
Track Listing: Black Market; Cannon Ball; Gibraltar; Elegant People; Three Clowns; Barbary Coast; Herandnu.
Personnel: Wayne Shorter, soprano and tenor saxes, Lyricon; Joe Zawinul, keyboards, piano; Alphonso Johnson, Jaco Pastorius (#2,6), electric bass; Narada Michael Walden (#1,2), Chester Thompson (#3-7), drums; Alex Acuna, Don Alias (#1,6), percussion.