It's hard to believe that, despite being gone for 28 years, bassist/composer Jaco Pastorius remains not just an important figure in the world of jazz, but beyond its broadest purview as well. His seemingly sudden appearance on a series of four albums in 1976 demonstrated that this was an artist with virtually no restrictions. In addition to his first contributing to two tracks on fusion supergroup Weather Report
's Black Market
(Columbia)leading to his replacing former band bassist Alphonso Johnson
through four additional studio albums and one live album until 1981Pastorius also made an important showing on four tracks of singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell
's career-defining Hejira
(Elektra/Asylum), and was a seminal member of Pat Metheny
's first trio on the then-up-and-coming guitar star's leader debut, Bright Size Life
But it was on his own debut recording under his own name, 1976's Jaco Pastorius
(Epic), that the bassist demonstrated the full breadth and depth of his musical capabilities and, despite its excellence, just a surface scratch of his true potential. From the mind-boggling opening salvo of bebop forefather Charlie Parker
's "Donna Lee"its knotty theme introducing Pastorius' signature fretless bass tone a cappella
, with the exception of percussionist Don Alias
' supportive congasto the buoyant, horn-charged version of "Come On, Come Over," featuring soul superstars Sam & Dave and the unrelenting funk of the bassist's unshakable groove, those two tunes would have been enough to suggest an artist who had concurrently emerged...and arrived
But the entire album was a knockout from start to finish. From the atmospheric "Continuum" and orchestrated Afro-Cuban vibe of "Kuru/Speak Like a Child" to the head-scratching, harmonic-driven solo bass feature "Portrait of Tracy" Pastorius demonstrated both monster chops and the knowledge of when to use them...and, just as important, when not
to use them. From the greasy groove of the steel pan-rich "Opus Pocus" and harmonic/conga confluence anchoring the French horns of "Okonkole Y Trompa," to the fiery "(Used To Be A) Cha Cha" and heartbreakingly beautiful orchestral miniature that closes the album, "Forgotten Love," Pastorius went even further, demonstrating remarkable arrangement skills for horns and orchestras, and a sophisticated vernacular that allowed him to confidently solo, head-to- head, with some of jazz's most significant and influential artists, including pianist Herbie Hancock
and saxophonist Wayne Shorter
More than any of the other albums that featured him that year, Jaco Pastorius
positioned the 24 year-old Pastorius as not just an electric bassist who would change the face of the instrument forever, but as a writer who would, during his short life, contribute a number of compositions to the jazz canon that are still played today, almost three decades after his tragic death at the age of 35.
And it wasn't just a one-shot deal. When Pastorius moved to Warner Bros. for the long overdue follow-up, 1981's Word of Mouth
, from the opening notes of the chaotic "Crisis" to a more organically orchestrated version of "Three Views of a Secret," first heard on Weather Report's Night Passage
, it was clear just how much the bassist had grown as a composer but, even more importantly, as a conceptualist...even as his health began to decline with the clear onset of a mode affective disorder that had, in some ways, worked to his advantage in his early years but, increasingly, began to cause erratic behaviour and serious substance abuse.
And yet, despite those problems that ultimatelyinevitably, evenled to his death, caused by a severe beating at the hands of a club bouncer that put him into a coma before he slipped away in Florida on September, 21, 1987, he managed to release more albums including Twins I
and Twins II
Japanese- only live albums that were cherry picked for the single disc international set Invitation
(Warner Bros., 1983).
While there are those who have capitalized on Pastorius' legend and released albums that should never have seen the light of day, a number of legitimate posthumous releases have continued to shed light on Pastorius' geniusa word bantered all-too-frequently but, when it comes this remarkable talent, whose short life left a treasure of music still being performed, dissected and analyzed to this day, a wholly appropriate one. From The Birthday Concert
(Warner Bros., 1995), which captured a 1981 concert celebrating Pastorius' 30th birthday with his Word of Mouth Big Band, and the aptly titled Portrait of Jaco: The Early Years 1968- 1978
(Holiday Park, 2009), to Modern American Music...Period! The Criteria Sessions
(Omnivore, 2014), where the demo sessions for what would become Pastorius' 1976 leader debut were finally made available, there seems to be a wealth of worthy music still available to open a wider window into the bassist's brief but oh-so-important career.
And the well has yet to run dry. Three separate releases, all issued within a week of each other, are a testament to Pastorius' continued significance and influence. First, the four-disc Weather Report box set The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981
is a refreshing reminder of just what a juggernaut not only Pastorius, but the entire group was during his tenure, with live material culled from its 1978 tour as a quartetthe only time the group would do so in a smaller configuration, with co-founders Joe Zawinul
and Wayne Shorter
joined by Pastorius and newcomer Peter Erskine
, whose earlier experience anchoring the big bands of Maynard Ferguson
and Stan Kenton
made him the perfect drummer for a group that may have been small in number but was huge in its orchestral reachas well as music recorded on tour in 1980/81, when the group was fleshed out to a quintet with the addition of percussionist Robert Thomas Jr
After a couple of years of anticipation, and after a handful of theatrical showings at film festivals, JACO
, the film championed (and co-produced) by Metallica bassist Robert Trujilloa sign, in and of itself, of Pastorius' reach beyond the world of jazz and a true labor of love for all involved in making itis finally being made available on DVD and Blu Ray. Last, JACO: The Soundtrack
features a variety of tracks featured in the film from across Pastorius' careerboth solo and with Weather Report, Joni Mitchell and ex-Mott the Hoople singer Ian Hunterin addition to music paying homage to the late bassist, ranging from a song by his daughter, Mary Pastorius, to interpretations of classic Pastorius material by Mass Mental, Tech N9ne, and the acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela.
Taken together, it's a treasure trove of remarkable music and documentary goodness, not only honoring the spirit of a bassist whose reach will continue to be felt for decadescenturies, even, perhapsto come, but also of the many artists with whom he associated, in particular Mitchell and the members of Weather Report, for whom a separate documentary is also currently in the works.
Jaco Pastorius JACO (The Film)
With author Bill Milkowksi's extraordinarily detailed and honest accounting of Pastorius' life in his biographyfirst published in 1996 but reissued nearly a decade later as Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius: Deluxe Edition
(Backbeat Books, 2005), with a hundred pages of additional footage garnered when those close to the late bassist were, with the passage of time, ready and willing to talk more openly about the complexities of Pastorius' life...and deathit seemed that the final words had been written on the subject. Still, a film about Pastorius seemed inevitable at some point, and while it's a subject about which there could be considerable trepidation, there's very good news to report: JACO
not only captures the full spirit of Pastorius, but tells the bassist's story with complete and utter honesty.
It would have been all too easy to sugarcoat Pastorius' life, and focus on the good while minimizing the bad. Still, from the film's opening segment after the credit roll (with voice-over interview clips with everyone from Joe Zawinul and Herbie Hancock to Joni Mitchell setting the stage for what's to come), a video interview with Pastorius from the September 19, 1985 interview with Jerry Jemmott
(originally published as the 1985 bass instructional video, Modern Electric Bass
) finds the Aretha Franklin
and B.B. King
bassist extolling Pastorius' many musical virtues. Asking the bassistwho looks unhealthy and emotionally depressedhow he felt about his importance, his influence, and how he had changed the way people looked at his instrument. Pastorius looks steeped in thought for a very brief moment before cracking a smile and saying "Gimme a gig, you know?"
That this was the truth was both the tragedy of where Pastorius' life had ultimately gonea later interview with Jemmott follows immediately, where the bassist says, "Ironically, at that particular point, he couldn't
get a gig." As the footage returns to a close-up of Pastorius, clearly in pain both physical and spiritual, Jemmott continues: "It was all over him; you could see it, that he was a man who had trouble. But getting it out was very important, even in the shape that he was in."
A fast edit to Pastorius, from the same interview session, playing "America the Beautiful," leads to Jemmott's continued commentary: It wasn't just notes; it had feeling, it had meaning to it and it had character. You can't really teach that. It's something he learned
how to playwhat was in his heart."
With an opening like that, it's clear that JACO
is a film that intends to glorify Pastorius for his many achievementsas another quick edit jumps six months prior to a live performance in Japan, where Pastorius is clearly a hero to the huge and enthusiastic audiencebut is also a documentary set on telling the truth about the almost meteoric rise and tragic fall of one of music's greatest artists of the latter quarter of the 20th century...not just jazz but, influencing everyone from The Police's Sting and Red Hot Chilli Peppers' Flea to Rush's Geddy Lee and Metallica's Robert Trujillo. From the moment that he introduced himself to Joe Zawinul, after a Weather Report show in 1975 with, "My name is John Francis Pastorius the third; I'm the greatest bassist in the world"to which Zawinul replied "Get the fuck outta here," until he actually heard him playPastorius' life was about to change...although, in truth, it already had.
Pastorius met Bobby Colomby, the drummer for Blood, Sweat & Tears, when the band was doing a Florida residency in 1974. Introduced to him by Pastorus' then-wife, Tracywho, after being asked by Colomby if she was married, said "Yes, I'm married...to the greatest bassist in the world"when Colomby first met Pastorius he said, "Oh, I understand you're the greatest bassist in the world," to which the bassist replied, "I am." Colomby recounts, "Then, of course, the arrogant New York side of me came out and I said, 'Well, why don't you get your bass to play a little bit?' He played 'Donna Lee,' this Charlie Parker song, as a solo. He played it with the facility and phrasing and nuance of a saxophonist."
The next thing he knew, Pastorius was in New York, recording his first album for Epic Records. But whereas many people offered a major deal with a major label would forget about the people they'd played with back home, as Colomby continues, "He wanted to keep them involved as much as possible," bringing steel pan player Othello Molineaux, drummer Bobby Economou and percussionist Don Alias into the picture. In the case of Alias and Molineaux, they were relationships that would continue well into the 1980s, with the bassist's various-sized Word of Mouth band.
Meanwhile, returning to Florida after the recording of Jaco Pastorius
, the bassist had his fateful meeting with Zawinul, who was in the midst of recording Black Market
with Weather Report. After they met, Zawinul invited Pastorius back to his hotel room. The group's bassist at the time, Alphonso Johnson
, picks up the story. "That evening, after we finished playing, I could hear music coming out of a room at the hotel, and I stopped and it's Joe's room. I peep in and I couldn't see Jaco, I could just see his back, but I could hear this recording and I though 'Wow, who's that?!' So Joe says, 'C'mon, c'mon, I want you to meet this guy, he's a bad motherfucker.' So he introduced me to Jaco, and I listened to the record. It was incredible. I started putting two and two together: here's this phenomenal bassist that Joe's interested in; what are my chances of being around much longer? So I just went for the other gig [with the George Duke/Billy Cobham Band] and it was perfect."
The entire film tells its story without the use of a narrator; instead, it's told through interviews with Pastorius, his family and many of the artists he would encounter or influence in his life, as well as his music. Found footage of Pastorius playing bass in Las Olas Brass in 1966 at the age of 15 is juxtaposed with music by his father, singer Jack Pastorius (in the Frank Sinatra
mould), along with the bassist's own recounting of his early years: "I grew up in Florida, where there was no real musical prejudice. There was all sorts of music, everything from Cuban music to symphonic music...everything. Whatever you wanted to hear you could hear. And everything's hip. I really wasn't influenced that much by bass players; to tell the truth I didn't know who the bass players were most of the time. The main thing was just the music itself, whatever was hip then, that was what I was checking out, mostly off 45s."
By the time he was in his mid-teens, after starting out on a drum kit he bought with money made on a newspaper route, he'd switched to bass and, while he was clearly motivated as a musician, he described his own life: "I had no ambition whatsoever, in life, at all, except to play tonight. I'm gonna go play tonight over at this club."
In some ways, Pastorius' hard work and good fortune at being at the right place at the right time (while undeniably taking full advantage of those moments) could only have happened at that time. After all, what bassist could become a superstar almost overnight in today's musical landscape? As Herbie Hancock describes over the opening credits, "In the '70s it was a war cry to be different. Musicians owned
the music business."
The film includes a bevy of interview clips with everyone from Bob Bobbing (who may be singularly responsible for keeping the Pastorius flames fanned in the decades after his death), Wayne Shorter, Carlos Santana
, Al Di Meola
and Herbie Hancock to fellow Weather Reporters Robert Thomas, Jr. and Peter Erskinethe latter who, remaining with Pastorius in his post-Weather Report Word of Mouth bands, sheds, perhaps, the most realistic and painful light on Pastorius' life in the 1980s, as the bipolar condition that had given him so much energy and drive in the early part of his career began to spiral downwards into a cycle of mixed moods and substance abuse...even as he does so with impeccable grace and the utmost respect and love.
Largely chronological, JACO
descends into tragedy in its latter third, but not until plenty of live footage with Weather Report, Joni Mitchell and Pastorius' own groups demonstrate the remarkable genius of his work as both a performer and a writer.
But it was the recording of his second album, 1981's Word of Mouth
, that seemed to be both an artistic high and critical crossroad in Pastorius' life. It's a revelation to learn, during the recording of the chaotic, anarchistic "Crisis," that he told (uncredited) co-producer Peter Yianilos that "we're not gonna let anybody hear anyone else's parts. Whatever happens, let's see if it fits." As Yianilos recalls, "it had a life of its own; it grew powerfully."
A fitting description of a track that, opening Word of Mouth
, was as far from radio-friendly and accessible as any album opener could be...and, given the interview clips with Warner Brothers Music's Ricky Schultz, a dangerous move.Schultz says: "It was apparent to some of us that this was a guy who was really something special and, in addition to being something special, had the potential really to break through and cross over. We set out on a quest to get Jaco to come to Warner Brothers. It was a star-level deal, make no mistake about it, and, because the record business is a business, expectations tend to follow the deal. You sign an act for $75,000 your expectations are at one level; if you sign an act for four times that...
"It's very rare that any record has a piece like this on it,"Schultz continues. "Pablo Picasso, 'Guernica,' Jaco Pastorius, 'Crisis.' They are of the same cloth. He wanted to open the record with this. I mean, there are a lot of people at the company that, if they heard this track, they'd just pull their hair out and say, 'Wait a minute, we can't use this, it's crazy, it's cacophony, it's atonal, nobody can follow it, it's scary...' I'm shaking right now as I'm thinking about it. I was kinda scared about the idea of it opening the record."
Peter Erskine picks up the story: "They pleaded with him; they said: 'Any other tune but that. We can't get this album onto radio if it's the first track." And Yianilos concludes with: "I think it made him very happy to think of this going on a record. I would say he was venting, venting a little bit of personal frustration, and then he realized this is the only way to start a record like this. It's to make people wonder: 'What's coming?' And then what comes is so
If Jaco Pastorius
announced the arrival of a world-changing talent, Word of Mouth
was a more deeply personal album that reflected the almost impossible musical maturation which Pastorius had undergone in the space of just a few short years. As Bill Milkowski describes it, "The Word of Mouth
album was so revealing of Jaco as a person, it was almost embarrassing to listen to, it was so intimate at times. It was the most courageous thing he's ever done, the most daring thing he's done; it's Jaco's internal thing, the real truth of who he is."
Pastorius was, by the time of Word of Mouth
's release, a staggeringly creative artist who was, however, already beginning to show signs of the unpredictability that gradually began seeping into his music and his performances. But it also reflected someone who, despite divorcing his first wife and remarrying Ingrid Pastorius, could be a simple family man, as happy swimming with his kids or throwing a frisbee on a beach as he was on a concert stage in front of thousands of people.
Still, despite the artistic success of Word of Mouth
, its daring 44 minutes of music was not something most record label folks, looking for an accessible fusion record, could get behind. Yianilos recalls, "The label had never quite really acknowledged the masterwork that it was, and it hurt Jaco deeply...to tears. It really hurt him. I remember Jaco really needing Joe [Zawinul]'s approval and we would call him on the phone and play the tape with the phone held up, all the time. And it was often the end of the day' session, because Joe would be cruelly dismissive. I kind of wanted to say to Jaco, 'Let's not call Joe today.'"
Erskine, again, picks up the story: "Joe had a fighter's instinct, a boxer's instinct. He had a 'Miles' instinctthat if there was a glass chin or a soft spot in the belly, he knew how to find it pretty quick.The final tour began with Joe listening to the Word of Mouth
album. He [Pastorius] wanted to wait for the perfect moment to play the music for Joe and he thought after lunch flying to Tokyo would be the perfect moment. Joe takes off the headphones and I hear him say, 'That sounds like some typical high school big band bullshit.' That's what Joe said about 'Liberty City.' And I couldn't believe it."
Milkowski continues, "That was Joe's way of slapping down the son who was threatening his reign, in a sense. That fucking music was on the highest level. 'John and Mary'? Joe would love
to write something like that. I think that was the point of fear, by Joe, feeling like the son had taken over."
In some ways, Word of Mouth
could be seen as Pastorius' crowning glory...and the beginning of the end. Zawinul was already unhappy with the bassist's onstage showmanship, feeling that it increasingly detracted from the music. After the one-star Downbeat
drubbing of Weather Report's Mr. Gone
(Columbia, 1978), followed by the better-received live/studio combo double album 8:30
(Columbia, 1979), Weather Report rebounded even more with the less radio-friendly, more traditional (i.e. swinging, at least in parts) and absolutely superb Night Passage
, which premiered Pastorius' "Three Views of a Secret" before it appeared on Word of Mouth
. Zawinul was, however, exerting more and more control over the music, with the lineup's final record, 1982's Weather Report
, almost completely dominated by his writing...writing that left little room for improvisation and, instead, was increasingly through composed.
By the time Pastorius, Erskine and Thomas left Weather Report in 1981, before their final album together was released, the strain of Zawinul's dismissal of Pastorius' work, and the lack of label support for Word of Mouth
may not have been provable precipitating factors in Pastorius' increasingly downward spiral, but there's little doubt that stress exacerbates the symptoms of those who suffer from bipolar disorder; add the gasoline-on-fire of substance abuse and Pastorius' ultimate declinewhich included being institutionalized for a period of time but, it seemed, too little too lateand where his life finally went was almost inevitable. Still, that he was beaten by a club bouncer who ultimately pled out on manslaughter rather the second- degree murder charge that was more appropriate, only made Pastorius' decline and death all the more tragic. While the film doesn't shy away from the tragedy, to its credit neither does it overdramatize it.
And, as a film celebrating the life and music of Pastorius should, it ends on a positive note. After all, this is a bassist who went beyond the jazz world to influence so many bassists including Metallica's Robert Trujillowho, along with Bob Bobbing, son John Pastorius IV and a host of others, was responsible for making this film a reality. "There's nothing else like it," says Flea, who gets the last word in the film proper. "Am I missing anyone? Am I missing something close to it on the bass? Not to me, man."
The DVD release of JACO
comes with a second disc that contains 100 minutes of additional outtakes, anecdotes, storiesand footage used in the Hollywood Bowl's Jaco's World
tribute show, earlier in 2015that didn't make the cut for the film, but all of which add to the film's compelling narrative.
Beyond the content, credit has to go to co-directors Mr. Paul Marchand (who also succeeded in the monumental effort of editing the documentary) and Stephen Kijak for building the story of Pastorius' life out of what seems to be hundreds of film clips, interviews and musical snippets. And to Robert Trujillo, for personally championing this film from inception to reality.
There simply has never been a bassista musicianlike Jaco Pastorius, and between Pastorius' pre-and posthumous discography, Bill Milkowski's superb biography, and now JACO
, which compresses his life story into a thoroughly captivating two-hours, it would appear that as much as anyone needs to appreciate Pastorius' complex, artistically rich but equally tragic life is finally out in the world.
Jaco Pastorius/Various Artists JACO: Original Soundtrack Legacy Recordings
With so many compilations already out there, it might be easy to question why a soundtrack to JACO
is even necessary. But one look at the track listing renders its raison d'être
clear: JACO: Original Soundtrack
is, in some ways, the most comprehensive document of the bassist's career, even if it doesn't contain as much music as previous double-disc sets. Yes, there is plenty of time given to his leader debut, Jaco Pastorius
(Epic, 1976), with everything from the soul/funk of "Come On, Come Over" and the ethereal "Continuum" to the hauntingly beautiful "Portrait of Tracy" and the atmospheric, harmonic-driven feature for French horn and percussion, "Okonkole yTrompa."
But there's also space for a couple of tracks from his second album (and 1981 Warner Bros. debut), Word of Mouth
, including the staggeringly chaotic album-opener, "Crisis," and more bouyant and accessible big band chart, "Liberty City"which, in addition to jazz giant Herbie Hancock, also features Pastorius' longtime friends from his Florida days, steel pan player Othello Molineaux and percussionist Don Alias.
Pastorius' tenure in Weather Report, too, is briefly represented with every aspiring bassist's rite of passage, "Teen Town," from the group's 1977 mega hit, Heavy Weather
(Columbia) and equally impressive "River People," from 1978's Mr. Gone
(Columbia), which combines Pastorius' relentless sixteenth-note anchor and keyboardist Joe Zawinul's broad orchestrations with a disco- fied beat that boosters the bassist's comment, in the film, that "everything's hip." Also included is "Barbary Coast," one of two tracks (and the only one written by Pastorius) that the bassist contributed to the transitional Black Market
(Columbia, 1976), a brief piece of greasy funk that was a harbinger of even better things to come as Pastorius took over the bass chair from Alphonso Johnson. JACO: Original Soundtrack
also includes a couple of his many guest appearances, including Joni Mitchell's setting of Charles Mingus
' "The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines" to words, first found on her collaborative album with the great double bassist, Mingus
(Elektra/Asylum, 1979), but heard here as the incendiary live version from Shadows and Light
the following year, where saxophonist Michael Brecker
takes a lengthy closing solo that Pastorius and Alias (this time on drum kit) push into the stratosphere and beyond. Less often included on jazz-centric Pastorius compilations is his contribution to ex-Mott the Hoople singer Ian Hunter's second solo album, All American Alien Boy
, with the title track included here, complete with a bass solo that demonstrates Pastorius' ability to fit into any context.
But what really makes the JACO: Original Soundtrack
special are the five tracks that close the 74-minute set. Daughter Mary Pastorius' "Longing" is a dark, dreamy ballad where the singer is supported solely by bassist Chuck Doom and, from her father's Weather Report days, percussionist/drummer Robert Thomas, Jr. "1987" is performed by a group named with nothing but three symbols with Chuck Doom on bass and keyboards, guitarist Shaun Lopez and vocalist Chino Moreno creating a similarly dreamy but increasingly dramatic response to the year of Pastorius' death. "Shine" takes the bass line from Jaco Pastorius' "Kuru," played by the bassist's nephew David Pastorius, but covers a lot of territory in its brief three minutes, with rap from TechN9ne (speaking in time with "Kuru"'s relentlessly fast bass line) and singing from keyboardist Soko, building into an urban-centric, song-based homage. Acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela performs a more rhythmically propulsive version of Jaco Pastorius floating "Continuum," also turning it into a fine solo vehicle for both guitarists.
Finally, the group dubbed Mass Mentalwhich features bassists including the film's co-producer from Metallica, Robert Trujillo, alongside one-time Zawinul Syndicate bassist Armand Sabal-Lecco and Red Hot Chilli Peppers' irrepressible Flea closes the recording by bringing it full circle with a more contemporary rendition of JACO: Original Soundtrack's opening track: Jaco Pastorius' Sam & Dave feature, "Come On, Come Over." Here, however, Mass Mental blends sung vocals with rap, and horns and keys combined with a dense mix from all three bassist that demonstrates the continued breadth and depth of Jaco Pastorius' reach and influence.
As much a starting point for those unfamiliar with Jaco Pastorius' work as it is a heartfelt tribute by family, friends and those who may never have met the bassist but were touched by his work, JACO: Original Soundtrack is a rare soundtrack album that honors its subject by demonstrating not just the subject's own work but showing how the father of "Punk Jazz" affected so many others in such a wide variety of genres. As much as the film succeeded in telling a story, this soundtrack is pure evidence of an artist whose influence continues to be felt nearly three decades after his passing.
The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981
While live documents from Weather Report's 16-year run continue to be unearthed, and while live albums have previously documented the group's 1978 tour, there's been precious little from its final tours of 1980/81, when the group returned more decidedly to its jazz roots with one of the best albums in its discography, 1980's Night Passage. Only keyboardist Joe Zawinul's "Fast City" and saxophonist Wayne Shorter's "Port of Entry," for example, made it onto 2002's Live and Unreleased (Columbia). Thanks, however, to drummer/producer Peter Erskine and executive producer Tony Zawinul, The Legendary Live Tapes 1978- 1981 not only rights that wrong by including live versions of Night Passage in its entirety, but expands the existing archive of live material from the 1978 tour, documented on 8:30 (Columbia, 1979), Live and Unreleased and the more recent audio and video release, Live in Offenbach 1978 (MIG, 2011).
While 8:30 was, in fact, a live/studio combo with three of its four LP sides devoted to live performances and the fourth containing four new songs recorded in the studio, not one of those four songsZawinul's "8:30" and "The Orphan"; Shorter's "Sightseeing"; and the Zawinul/Shorter collaboration "Brown Street"has ever made it onto a live recording...until now. In fact, while slightly out of order, and with "The Orphan" reduced to an even shorter miniature than it was on 8:30acting more as a connecting thread between a brightly delivered "Brown Street" and darker- hued "Forlorn" (the first appearance of a Night Passage composition)it's the live versions of all four studio tracks that open the first of The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981's generous four discs, which alternate between the quartet version of Weather Report that toured in 1978 with Zawinul, Shorter, Erskine and bassist Jaco Pastorius, and the 1980/81 performances that added percussionist Robert Thomas, Jr. to the mix.
Any live document of Weather Report from that era would have to include certain numbers that were both show-stoppers and well-known tracks to even the most casual fan: the singable hit "Birdland," from Heavy Weather; the world music groove of Black Market's joyous title track; the medley of the ethnic- based "Badia" and relentlessly pulsating "Boogie Waltz," from 1975's Tale Spinnin' and 1973's game-changing Sweetnighter, respectively; the lyrical Zawinul ballad "A Remark You Made," a feature for the equally melodic Pastorius and the bassist's own mind-boggling bass-heavy "Teen Town," both also from Heavy Weather; and the deeper, more atmospheric and mysterious "Scarlet Woman," from 1974's Mysterious Traveller. Still, it's the preponderance of material that was largely not a part of previous live recordings that makes The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981 so special...and so essential.
There is plenty of space for solo spots from everyone; a full 41 minutes is devoted to features for Shorter, Pastorius and Erskine, along with a duo from Zawinul and Shorter that, in addition to being loosely based on the music of Duke Ellington, also features a rare spot with the normally tenor/soprano saxophonist playing alto and a demonstration of the largely synthesizer-favouring Zawinul's still-present piano prowess. But beyond thatand beyond the usual suspects that were bound to show up in any Weather Report show from the timethere's well over two hours of material that have been rarely, if ever, documented. A superb set of liner notes from Erskine provide not only a big picture overview of what it was like to be in Weather Report at the time, but a detailed, informative and revealing track-by-track commentary. Never has Weather Report been written up so well in a commercial release.
Of all the discs, the most important one may be the third, culled from 1980/81, where six of Night Passage's eight tracks take up the entire disc; on CD1, after "Forlorn," a gorgeous take of Pastorius' "Three Views of a Secret" follows, beginning as a delicate ballad before assuming its more vibrant complexion nearly half- way into its seven minute-plus runtime...and completing the eight tracks from Night Passage included in this box set.
But back to CD3: from Erskine's thunderous introduction to Zawinul's disc-opening "Fast City," it's clear that Weather Report, circa 1980/81 was a completely different band than the one that had toured just a couple years earlier. Looser, more improvisationally open, and swinging harder than it had ever done before, credit has to go to the rhythm team of Pastorius, Erskine and Thomas, who seem to be playing as if their lives depended on it. The often taciturn Shorter, too, seems to have been unleashed from his more restrained work on Mr. Gonethe Zawinul-dominated album of remarkable synthesizer orchestration that, in addition to being unfairly judged at the time but now seen for the groundbreaking record it really was, had many fans and reviewers alike suggesting that it was, indeed, Shorter who was the titular "Mr. Gone."
Zawinul, too, seems to be more unfettered...even as, with the group's final album with Pastorius, Erskine and Thomas (1982's Weather Report) would return to more through-composed and less open-ended material. But here, all the stops seem to have been pulled out as "Fast City" leads to a powerhouse solo from Erskine, where Pastorius and Zawinul add brief exclamatory phrases before the composition's still memorable melody is played at an even faster clip than on the studio album.
Beyond the relentless sound of surprise delivered by this band on every track it tackles, there are other surprises. The gradually ascending, speeding up synths that end "Forlorn" at the end of Night Passagenot a studio concoction but something Zawinul somehow manages to accomplish in real time. This was, after all, a time before samplers and the kind of sonic processing that's taken for granted in the new millennium, so what might seem like such a small thing now was a far more remarkable achievement then.
And if there were ever a question as to why Weather Report would include an Ellington tune on one of its albums, with the group performing "Rockin in Rhythm" at an even faster tempo as Zawinul moved from electronic big band synthesizer orchestrations to a brief acoustic piano solo, it made crystal clear that, as much as Weather Report was a forward-looking group, it had never lost sight of the longstanding tradition at its core. The performance recalls Erskine's description, in the liner notes to the Forecast Tomorrow (Legacy, 2006) compilation box set, of a press conference shortly after he joined the band; asked if his prior experience playing in big bands qualified him to play with Weather Report, the ever-outspoken Zawinul jumped in, responding: "Weather Report is a big band and we are a small group, too. Next question."
The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981 is filled with such moments, as the group expands significantly upon the studio versions in its repertoire, with the slowly building, ambling swing of Zawinul's "Madagascar" expanded to over 17 minutes, while the punctuated evolution of "Port of Entry" runs almost 13 minutes, double its original length. And while there are plenty of places where individual solos delineate, much of this music also follows the modus operandi that dates back to the group's very early days, when Zawinul said "We always solo...and never solo."
Other highlights include a medley of "Continuum," from Pastorius' 1976 leader debut, Jaco Pastorius, and the bassist's more relentlessly grooving, disco-inflected "River People," from Mr. Gone, that stretches out to over twelve minutes. A take of Black Market's "Gibraltar" is another high point that, opening with the same sounds of massive boat horns, morphs from a spacious synthesizer feature for Zawinul into an even more up-tempo burner that seems to build and build until Pastorius' rapid-fire sixteenth notes, driven by Erskine's tumultuous support, push Shorter into one of his fiercest solos of the set.
And that's only the first ten minutes of a 21-minute track that demonstrates virtually everything that was great about Weather Report in general and this incarnation in particular. While commercial success did, for a time, seem to drive the band into more fixed arrangements and less open-ended improvisation with the unexpected mega- success of Heavy Weathera feeling that was not really countered by the previous live recordings of 8:30 and the complete concert of Live in Offenbach 1978, The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981 makes clear that Jaco-era Weather Reportespecially with the recruitment of, first, Erskine and then, Thomaswas no less an intrepid, without-a-safety-net improvising group than it was in its earliest years.
When Weather Report first made its impact as a post-Miles electric group with the 1971 Columbia debut, Weather Report, it eschewed the more overt virtuosity of peers like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and Herbie Hancock's soon-to-come Headhunters group. Instead, it established itself through unfettered experimentation in sound and pulse, form and freedom, and collective free play that made it an absolutely unpredictable but always exhilarating live experience. Still, there was never any doubt about the virtuosity of its many members, as Zawinul and Shorter remained the only constants, with bass, drum and percussion seats changing, in some way, with every successive release.
But while later incarnations of the groupin particular the period when Pastorius was a memberseemed to become more predicated on overt virtuosity, it clearly still remained a group true to its origins. If any document exists from that period to support such a statement it's The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981: a little over four hours of some of the group's most alternatively powerful and understated, angular and lyrical, and ethereal and groove-laden music. Previous live albums have, of course, been worthy additions to the band's discography, but The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981 is, without a doubt, the broadest in scope and the most vigorously revelatory: quite simply, the best live album that the group has ever released. And with much of the music coming from Peter Erskine's private archives, hope springs eternal that there might be more to come.
Tracks and Personnel:
Robert Trujillo Presents: JACO
DVD1: The Film: 117 Minutes. Directed by by Mr. Paul Marchand and Stephen Kijak; produced by Robert Trujillo and John Battsek. Featuring Jaco Pastorius, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Peter Erskine, Robert Thomas, Jr., Geddy Lee, Robert Trujillo, Bill Milkowski, Sting, Flea, Mike Stern, Carlo Santana, Bootsy Collins, Jerry Jemmott, Tracy Pastorius, Ingrid Pastorius, Mary Pastorius, John Pastorius, Julius Pastorius, Felix Pastorius, Bobby Columby, Bob Bobbing, Miles Davis, Weather Report, Word of Mouth Band, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Jack Pastorius, Wayne Cochoran, Bob Moses, Ian Hunter, Don Alias, Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, MichAel Brecker, Randy Brecker, and others, DVD2 Outtakes, Anecdotes & Stories: Runtime: 100 Minutes. 30 never-before-seen interviews with Flea, Joni Mitchell, Carlos Santana, Mike Stern and many more, who discuss Jaco's incredible contributions to music, the art of the bass and the boundaries of music, as well as Jaco the person. Hear stories about Jaco's earliest bands and classic recordings. Includes special footage used during the historic Hollywood Bowl (Jaco s World) Tribute Show 2015, and more.
JACO: Original Soundtrack
Tracks: Come On, Come Over; Continuum; River People; Teen Town; Portrait of Tracy; The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines; All American Alien Boy; Liberty City; Okonkole Y Trompa; Barbary Coast; Crisis; Longing; Nineteen Eighty Seven; Shine; Come On Come Over.
Personnel: Jaco Pastorius: bass (1-11), drums (3-4), voice (3, 11),timpani (3), Prophet 5 Synthesizer (8), cymbals (8), keyboards (11), synthesizer (11); Randy Brecker: trumpet (1); Ron Tooley: trumpet (1); David Samborn: alto saxophone (1); Michael Brecker: tenor saxophone (1, 8, 11); Howard Johnson: baritone saxophone (1, 8); Herbie Hancock: keyboards (1), Fender Rhodes (2), piano (8); Don Alias: congas (1, 9), bells (2), drums (6), percussion (8), Okonkolo y lya (9),Afu he (9); Narada Michael Walden: drums (1); Sam Moore: vocals (1); Dave Prater: vocals (1); Lenny White: drums (2) Wayne Shorter: soprano saxophone (3-4, 8, 10), tenor saxophone (10, 11), Lyricon (10); Manolo Badrena: congas (3-4); Joe Zawinul: keyboards (3, 10), ARP (3), Prophet (3) Fender Rhodes (4, 10), ARP 2600 (4, 10), melodica (4), Oberheim Polyphonic Synthesizer (4, 10), grand piano (10); Joni Mitchell: voice (6); Pat Metheny: guitar (6); Lyle Mays: keyboards (6); Ian Hunter: rhythm guitar (7), piano (7), vocals (7); Ann Sutton: background vocals (7); Gail Kantor: background vocals (7); Erin Dickens: background vocals (7); Cornell Dupree: guitar (7); Aynsley Dunbar: drums (7); Chris Stainton: organ (7), keyboards (7); Toots Thielemans: harmonica (8, 11); Othello Molineaux: steel pans (8); Paul Hornmueller: steel pans (8); Leroy Williams: steel pans (8); Jack DeJohnette: drums (8, 11); Robert Thomas, Jr.: percussion (8), hand drums (12), drum kit (12); Chuck Findley: trumpet (8); Bobby Findley: trumpet (8); Snooky Young: trumpet (8); Dave Bargeron: trombone (8); Jim Pugh: trombone (8); David Taylor: bass trombone (8); John Clark: French horn (8); Peter Gordon: French horn (8, 9); Hubert Lass: piccolo (8, 11), flute (8); George Young: alto saxophone (8); Alphonso Johnson: electric bass (10); Chester Thompson: drums (10), percussion (10); Alex Acuña: congas (10), percussion (10); Mary Pastorius: vox (12); Chuck Doom: bass (12,13), keyboards (13); God: rain (12), thunder (12); Chino Moreno: voice (13); Shaun Lopez: guitars (13); TechN9ne: vocals (14); Soko: vocals (14), keyboards (14); David Pastorius: bass (14); Rodrigo y Gabriela: acoustic guitars (15); C-Minus: keyboards (16), horns (16); Stephen Perkins: drums (16); Whit Crane: vocals (16); Benji Webbe: vocals (16); Robert Trujillo: Main Chango bass (16); Armand Sabal-Lecco: Tenor Juju bass (16); Flea: bass stabs (16), bass solo (16).
Weather Report-The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981
Tracks: CD1 (The Quintet 1980 + 1981):8:30; Sightseeing; Brown Street; The Orphan; Forlorn; Three Views of a Secret; Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz; Wayne Solo; Jaco Solo (Osaka 1980). CD2 (The Quartet 1978): Joe and Wayne Duwt (Tokyo 1978); Birdland; Peter's Solo ("drum solo"); A Remark You Made; Continuum/River People; Gibraltar. CD3 (The Quintet 1980 + 1981): Fast City; Madagascar; Night Passage; Dream Clock; Rockin' in Rhythm; Port of Entry. CD4 (The Quartet 1978): Elegant People; Scarlet Women; Black Market; Jaco Solo (Osaka 1978); Teen Town; Peter's Solo (Osaka 1978); Directions.
Personnel: Joe Zawinul: keyboards (CD1#1, CD2#11-2, CD2, CD3, CD4#1- 3, CD4#5, CD4#7), ARP Quadra (CD1#1), bass synthesizer (CD1#1), "Chicken Neck" (CD1#8), acoustic piano (CD2#1); Jaco Pastorius: drums (CD#1), bass (CD1#2-7, CD1#9, CD2#2, CD2#4-6, CD3, CD4#1-5, CD4#7); Wayne Shorter: tenor saxophone (CD1#2-5), saxophone (CD1#6-7, CD2#2, CD2#4-6, CD3, CD4#1-3, CD4#5, CD4#7), alto saxophone (CD2#1); Peter Erskine: drums (CD1#2-6, CD2#2-6, CD3, CD4#1-3, CD4#5-7), timpani (CD2#3); Robert Thomas, Jr.: percussion (CD1#2-3), hand drums (CD1#3-7, CD3).
Photo Credit: Chris Hakkens