Jaco Pastorius: Live and Outrageous

John Kelman By

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Jaco Pastorius
Live and Outrageous

The reputation of the late Jaco Pastorius is legendary, based as much on his mercurial personality as his groundbreaking bass playing and small but significant repertoire of original music. His declining mental health became increasingly evident following his departure from fusion super group Weather Report, ultimately leading to his tragic demise in 1987. Still, while the bassist was already beginning to show some signs of decline when Jaco Pastorius: Live and Outrageous was filmed at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1982, he was still capable of putting on an exciting show.

Trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonist/bass clarinetist Bob ("Bobby") Mintzer, steel drummer Othello Molineaux, drummer Peter Erskine and recently deceased percussionist Don Alias were all members of Pastorius' Word of Mouth Big Band but here, as a sextet, they're all given considerably more maneuvering room. The only unfortunate aspect to the show is that it features none of Pastorius' enduring material like "Three Views of a Secret" or "Liberty City."

Perhaps the omission of these signature compositions reflects Pastorius's reasoning that they required a larger band to handle the more expansive orchestration (though subsequent takes by other groups have proven this to be untrue). In their place, Pastorius on this occasion offers a mix of soul ("Chicken," "Fannie May"), bop/post-bop (Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" and Mintzer's "Mr. Fonebone") and a solo feature that— as seen on other live recordings including the DVD packaged with the Weather Report compilation Forecast: Tomorrow (Legacy, 2006) and singer/ songwriter Joni Mitchell's Shadows and Light (Sony, 1980)—incorporates the bassist's use of delay to create primitive loops.

It may feel like a relatively thrown-together set list, but a group of players this strong are still able to lift it above the mundane and make it an hour well worth watching. Pastorius first burst onto the scene with his solo take of "Donna Lee" on his eponymous 1976 Epic Records debut, but here it's given a much longer treatment, with plenty of solo space for everyone (though Pastorius' ability to navigate Parker's theme at lightning speed is still amazing to hear and see). Mintzer may have been considered rooted in the style of the late Michael Brecker on saxophone, but his bass clarinet opening here suggests, even at this relatively early stage in his career, a unique talent resistant to facile and overly general comparisons.

Randy Brecker had, by this time, established himself as a remarkable trumpet gun-for-hire, not to mention co-leader of The Brecker Brothers' soulful fusion, but his roots in the tradition have always been clear. Here he seamlessly combines electronics with bebop, delivering lengthy solos that never sacrifice the message for the medium, or lose focus on the musical material itself.

Erskine, who had driven the roaring big bands of Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson before joining Weather Report, continued to work with Pastorius after both left Weather Report and, while he would subsequently simplify and subdue his style considerably, here he's a veritable powerhouse. Erskine works hand-in-glove with Alias—the conguero who Jack DeJohnette has said is one of the few who could really swing on the instrument—and in a complementary fashion, never causing two or more percussionists to get in each other's way.

Without Molineaux this would be a fairly conventional (albeit highly talented) small jazz ensemble, but the texture of the steel drums not only keeps the Caribbean feel that was so important to Pastorius but gives it a unique complexion. A surprisingly versatile player, Molineaux makes such a significant difference that any attentive spectator can't help but wonder why his biggest exposure was limited to Pastorius and why he's rarely been heard from since.

As for Jaco? Even if he hadn't written that small body of memorable work, his revolutionary approach to the fretless bass would have ensured his enduring place in jazz history. His ability to combine frightening virtuosity with unshakable groove and deep lyricism leaves an impact as potent now as it was then.

Originally recorded for television broadcast, the sound and audio quality of Jaco Pastorius: Live and Outrageous are fine—not outstanding, but certainly more than adequate. That there's only a stereo mix, not to mention the lack of bonus features, might irk some, but finally having this performance in commercial release more than makes up for the relatively Spartan production values.

Tracks: Chicken; Donna Lee; Jaco's Bass Solo; Mr. Fonebone; Fannie May.

Personnel: Jaco Pastorius: bass, vocals; Randy Brecker: trumpet; Bobby Mintzer: reeds; Don Alias: percussion; Othello Molineaux: steel drums; Peter Erskine: drums.

Feature: Directed by Pierre Lacombe. Approximate running time 58 minutes. Aspect ratio: 4:3 (Full Screen).

Photo Credits
Captured from Jaco Pastorius: Live and Outrageous DVD, courtesy of Shanachie.

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