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Various: Celebrating the Music of Weather Report

Ed Kopp By

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The 31 musicians who appear on this tribute album deliver upbeat yet shifty interpretations of compositions by Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and the parade of musicians who comprised Weather Report from 1970 to 1985. Those paying tribute constitute a fusion who's who. For starters, there's Joe Sample, John Scofield, the Breckers, David Sanborn, Dennis Chambers, Andy Narell, John Patitucci, Dean Brown and ex-Weathermen Victor Bailey, Steve Gadd and Omar Hakim.

The glue that holds this collection together is Jason Miles, best known for his work with George Benson, Miles Davis ( Tutu ) and numerous contemporary R&B singers. Miles is a talented keyboardist and producer, but he's no Joe Zawinul. His synthesizers lend some tracks a sunny luster more suited to pop music than global fusion. But let’s cut the dude some slack – it’s a huge task trying to re-interpret the rich textures and shifting rhythms conceived by Zawinul and Shorter, and Miles’ versions are wonderfully accessible.

The music here brings to mind a really good Spyro Gyra album more than a new Weather Report release. Still, there haven't been many really good Spyro Gyra albums, and who wants to hear a Weather Report knock-off? The talent assembled here is enough to make any fusion fan drool, and I can't complain about a fresh take on some classic electric jazz.

The 11 tracks span Weather Report’s 15-year history. Best performances include Mary Fahl’s ethereal vocals on "Badia," Andy Narell’s masterful steel drumming on "Young and Fine," Mike Brecker's beautiful blowing on "Elegant People," and Miles’ cinematic Middle Eastern arrangement of "Pursuit of the Woman with the Feathered Hat." There’s also a radio friendly take on "Birdland" that doesn’t deviate much from the original.

Prediction: More than a few mainstream jazz critics will pan Celebrating because of the synthesizers. Prediction 2: Most fusion fans will love Celebrating because of the synthesizers. I fall in the latter camp. One caveat, however: If you don't like synthesizers, don't even bother.

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