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Jaco Pastorius: Truth, Liberty & Soul Live in New York: The Complete NPR Jazz Alive! Recording

John Kelman By

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Jaco Pastorius: Truth, Liberty & Soul Live in New York: The Complete NPR Jazz Alive! Recording These days, there's a plethora of recordings, originally made for radio or television broadcast, being released by labels ranging from thoroughly legit to highly suspect. In some instances, these are real archival finds; true gold, mined from hours of hours of recordings, lovingly restored and packaged. In other cases they're clearly nothing but money grabs. Capitalizing on old contracts with holes in them the size of a Mack truck, these cheaply packaged, sonically acceptable but far from stellar releases muddy the waters for labels that look to do it right: gain all the proper permissions; ensure that a percentage of the proceeds go to the artist (or estate, in the case of those no longer alive); do everything possible to bring the sound (and, where applicable, video) as close to 21st century standards as possible; and artfully package them, with booklets containing informative liner notes, photos and other memorabilia.

Amongst some of the better independent labels handling archival finds the right way are ECM, Cuneiform, MoonJune, Panegyric...and Resonance Records, the non-profit American label whose small but important discography of unearthed finds by legendary jazz artists ranging from Bill Evans and Wes Montgomery to Larry Young and Sarah Vaughan has been nothing short of exemplary, demonstrating how it should be done and setting a suitably high bar for others to follow, especially in the jazz world. With the release of Truth, Liberty & Soul Live in New York: The Complete NPR Jazz Alive! Recording, the label has truly outdone itself: not only bringing a stellar live performance of electric fretless bass phenom Jaco Pastorius' out-of-the-park June 27, 1982 performance at Avery Fisher Hall, with his 22-piece Word of Mouth Big Band— first aired on the American public radio network's Jazz Alive! program—into long-overdue commercial release, it does so in what has become the characteristically thorough and signature Resonance Records way.

Not only does this deluxe package include a 100-page booklet containing articles, interviews and testimonials from various people, ranging from Word of Mouth band musicians including drummer Peter Erskine, trumpeter Randy Brecker, reed multi-instrumentalist Bob Mintzer and steel pans master Othello Molineaux, to fellow bassists, NPR folks involved in the original broadcast (including original recording/mixing engineer Paul Blakemore, who also remixed the original multi-tracks for this release), Jaco biographer Bill Milkowski, childhood friend Bob Bobbing and many more, along with photos and relevant historic memorabilia; it also includes a full forty minutes of music making its very first appearance here, having apparently managed to escape the hands of bootleggers over the decades.

Kudos to Resonance Records' Zev Feldman and George Klabin...and label friend, Michael Cuscuna, who introduced the pair to Jazz Alive! producer Tim Owens in 2011, which initiated what would become a six-year process of bringing Truth, Liberty & Soul from conception to fruition. The perseverance Resonance has shown with this release is truly epic: there were so many hurdles over which the label had to leap, a great number of people who needed to be interviewed and commissioned to make the booklet second only to Milkowski's Jaco: The Extraordinary And Tragic Life Of Jaco Pastorius: Deluxe Edition (Backbeat Books, 2005) and the equally candid JACO (The Film) (Slang East/West, 2015) in providing plenty on which to chew, while absorbing Truth, Liberty & Soul's consistently superb, 130-minute performance.

Sonically, Truth, Liberty & Soul is also, hands down, the best-sounding Word of Mouth recording ever...and that includes the original (and not at all shabby-sounding) live albums Invitation (Warner Bros., 1983), the expanded two-volume, Japanese-only release of the full concert from which Invitation was culled (1999's Twins I & II: Live in Japan, from Warners Japan), and the posthumous 1995 release of The Birthday Concert (Warner Bros.), the first live performance of a series of big band charts that would go on to become the core repertoire of the Word of Mouth Big Band, recorded at the bassist's 30th birthday party in Fort Lauderdale, FL. This is music that literally leaps out of the speakers to fill the room, whether it's funkified soul; swinging, bop-informed improvisational forays; free improvisation passages of remarkable group synchronicity; beautiful, elegantly composed ballads; or contrastingly refined and thrilling looks at not just jazz chestnuts, but one reggae tune and, during Pastorius' shared "Bass and Drums Improvisation" with Erskine, references to Jimi Hendrix, the American National Anthem and more...along with the many other musical styles that imbued Pastorius' work.

Plenty has already been written about Pastorius' short but significant career: as a leader; as a member of Weather Report (the fusion supergroup where the bassist first met Erskine, who would go onto become a close collaborator when the pair left the fusion supergroup in 1982); and a recording and/or touring collaborator with artists ranging from Joni Mitchell and Pat Metheny to Herbie Hancock and Airto Moreira. But with Truth, Liberty & Soul, there's a whole new set of performances to consider in the context of Pastorius' tragically cut-short life and the bipolar disorder that, previously lurking under the sheets, would begin to make its presence more visible not long after this concert was recorded and Pastorius took a modified version of his group to Japan for a tour where his increasingly aberrant behaviour ultimately led to the tragic collapse of his career...and his ultimate death at the hands of Luc Havan just five years later—a club bouncer who, beyond time served, spent a whopping four months of a mere 22-month manslaughter sentence behind bars...ultimately paroled for good behavior.

The tremendous highs and tragic lows that represent Pastorius' too-short life only make, however, what he did leave behind all the more precious and—with Truth, Liberty & Soul the most comprehensive document of a Word of Mouth Big Band performance to date, when the bassist was truly at the peak of his multifarious powers—all the more important.

With a Word of Mouth Big Band populated, beyond the core sextet of Pastorius, Mintzer, Brecker, Molineaux, Alias and Erskine, with some of New York's most illustrious players of the time, Truth, Liberty & Soul not only includes many (but not all) of the tracks found on The Birthday Concert and Twins I & II (and, by extension, Invitation); it also includes an extended, expanded version of bebop pioneer Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee"—the tune that, also attributed by some to Miles Davis, opened the bassist's 1976 Epic debut, Jaco Pastorius as the thrill-a-second bass and percussion solo that literally shook the world of jazz and beyond.

On that record, this two-and-a-half-minute miniature was all the world needed to realize something new was taking place; here, the tune is expanded to over thirteen minutes, beginning with a spectacular display of a cappella multiphonics from David Bargeron, whose two-minute intro should be required listening for any aspiring tubaist. From there, the band kicks in with a quick rundown of the tune's head before opening up to hard-swinging solos, including an electric bass clarinet solo from Mintzer that almost— almost—sounds like a synthesizer; an equally impressive solo from Brecker, filtered electronically, that seamlessly and, with astute timing, turns into a burnished, open-horn solo before re-instituting the electronics just before a brief but similarly mind-boggling feature for Pastorius that ultimately leads to the entire 22-piece group playing Parker's knotty, long-form head...in uncanny unison.

If that weren't enough on the jazz standard front, rather than beginning a duet reading of Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" with the a cappella harmonica solo of Twins I (and the edited version on Invitation)—also featuring invited guest, the late Toots Thielemans—this version starts with Pastorius alone, before Thielemans enters for a reading that clearly demonstrates the fluidity—and difference—of every Pastorius performance. A small group rendition of Thielemans' famous "Bluesette" follows, making its first appearance on any Pastorius release. Driven by the graceful combination of Alias and Erskine, this quintet version, also featuring Molineaux—who manages to navigate the tune's many changes with stunning aplomb—leads to a heartfelt solo from Thielemans, before turning to a brief feature for the percussion pair.

The breadth of the program is, in fact, greater than on any previous live album from Pastorius' Word of Mouth Big Band. A Latin-ized, slightly reggae-infused version of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" is another quintet piece for Pastorius, Thielemans, Molineaux, Erskine and Alias, closing a mid-concert break for the rest of the group with a combination of groove and improvisational élan.

Elsewhere, Mintzer's alternately swinging and funkified big band chart "Mr. Fonebone"—first appearing on the reed player's initially Japan-only Papa Lips (CBS/Sony Japan, 1984) but later showing up on his organ-driven, small group Canyon Cove (Pony Canyon, 2010)—fits the concept of Pastorius' band hand-in-glove, with fiery solos from Mintzer (on tenor saxophone), Brecker and Thielemans.

Thielemans makes three more appearances: a particularly striking performance of "Three Views of a Secret" (one of Pastorius' most often-covered compositions); a more groove-driven "Liberty City"—both tracks first appearing on Pastorius' second and even more impressive studio effort, Word of Mouth (Warner Bros., 1981)—where the harmonicist delivers his most impressive solo of the set; and a set-closing regular, the 1959 Buster Brown blues/R&B classic "Fannie Mae," with Pastorius singing the familiar lyrics before using the up-tempo blues as an opportunity to introduce (literally) every member of the Word of Mouth Big Band. All three tracks bristle with energy and excitement...even when the vibe is more elegant and refined.

Throughout, Pastorius' ability to anchor the group with everything from signature and unrelenting sixteenth-note ostinatos and broad knowledge of Afro-Cuban/Latin rhythms to head-bobbing, Jerry Jemmott-inspired funk lines and more, is as impressive as ever. At the same time, the bassist approaches even the most detailed chart with unfettered abandon as he interacts with his entire group, soloing with a remarkable eye to construction rather than mere pyrotechnic displays of virtuosity; it's an approach that remains unparalleled to this day, with his primitive loop-driven solo in "Bass and Drums Improvisation," perhaps, the best example of how Pastorius could create in-the-moment compositional constructs. That said, his virtuosity remains a clear foundation throughout, and what's most remarkable about Truth, Liberty & Soul is how—and this applies to everyone, in fact—Pastorius manages to deliver head-scratching, "how does he do that" passages of instrumental mastery without ever nearing superfluous excess.

Truth, Liberty & Soul is also a reminder of just how great a loss Don Alias' passing in 2006 was to the music world; his ten-minute a cappella intro to this live version of Jaco Pastorius' Carribbean-infused and rhythmically complex "Okonkole Y Trompa"—with John Clark's French horn layering its long-toned theme over the foundation laid by Alias...and rapid-fire bass harmonics that would seem impossible if they weren't right here to be heard—is a master class in how to build a masterful, long-form percussion solo.

That Pastorius provides so much space for his band mates also demonstrates his intrinsic generosity. There's no doubt, from Pastorius' high-bar playing throughout—and a program that features six of his most memorable big band charts—who's leading this band; but he provides plenty of room nevertheless, not just for the core sextet but for other members of the Word of Mouth Big Band as well, either soloing individually or interpreting the charts so liberally that they're rendered all the more eminently affecting.

The incendiary 13-minute "Invitation" that opens the set is a perfect example of form meeting freedom as its theme is handed around, tag team-style, with all kinds of interpretive freedom throughout, before leading into a series of solos driven hard by Pastorius, Erskine and Alias. That much of the music on Truth, Liberty & Soul straddles the line between the rich orchestral harmonies only possible with a group this size and more reduced contexts, where soloists can explore freely, at times, without the hindrance—barring Pastorius' more-than-occasional injections—of chord-driven harmony, makes the bassist's Word of Mouth Big Band a rare, forward-thinking entity for its time.

Big Bands were, in fact, relatively rare at that time—especially on the road, where increasingly prohibitive touring costs forced groups to rethink and reduce—and most of those that were around were more nostalgic than innovative, irrespective of Weather Report keyboardist Joe Zawinul's hurtful rejection of Pastorius' Word of Mouth at the time (a story relayed in Bob Bobbing's interview). Sure, there's no doubt that Pastorius was a fan of Big Band/Swing Era music (amongst so much more); but few of those large ensembles fundamental to his growing-up years would consider tackling a tone poem like "Twins"—here, a relatively brief rendition compared to the six-minute version on Twins II, but nevertheless filled with the same combination of structural dramaturgy and sheer improvisational freedom.

Throughout the set, Erskine is a force of nature, whether it's driving the entire band with unbridled muscle or delicate elegance. It's great to see him return, in recent years, to the booty-shaking funk at the foundation of some of this group's work with his Dr. Um band. The drummer's output, beginning the early 1990s, has largely focused on more subtle, nuanced and space-filled music; but whether he's fuelling the engine room on "Soul Intro/The Chicken," doing a slow build to more unrelentingly powerful terrain on the medley of "Reza" and a brief but bright look at John Coltrane's rite of passage "Giant Steps," swinging amiably on "Three Views of a Secret" or hammering some timpani during the freer passage of "Twins," few other drummers at the time—and not that many today, for that matter—could manage the demands of stylistic breadth, rhythmic complexity and intuitive response that Erskine achieves throughout Truth, Liberty & Soul.

And so, Truth Liberty & Soul is not only a reminder of how much ground Pastorius broke in such a relatively short time on earth; it's also a reminder of how talented and broad-minded each and every member of his Word of Mouth Big Band was—and, of those alive today, remains. While each and every one of Pastorius' relatively few albums as a leader prior to his illness getting in the way is essential listening (not just for bassists, but for music fans of many persuasions), this exceptional, unearthed live recording—following six long years of dotting every "i" and crossing every "t"—is as beautifully packaged and sonically restored as its music deserves.

Truth, Liberty & Soul may also be the entry point for anyone looking to appreciate the full reach of this envelope-pushing, boundary-busting bassist, composer, arranger and bandleader. Pastorius' life may have been cut short—far too short—but his memory and legacy will undoubtedly live on through outstanding archival finds like Truth, Liberty & Soul Live in NYC: The Complete 1982 Jazz Alive! Recording, unearthed and presented with such loving care and unerring attention to every single detail.

Track Listing: CD1: Invitation; Soul Intro/The Chicken; Donna Lee; Three Views of a Secret; Liberty City; Sophisticated Lady; Bluesette. CD2: I Shot the Sheriff; Okonkolé Y Trompa; Reza/Giant Steps (Medley); Mr. Fonebone; Bass and Drums Improvisation; Twins; Fannie Mae.

Personnel: Jaco Pastorius: bass, vocals; Bob Mintzer: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Randy Brecker: trumpet; Othello Molineaux: steel drums; Don Alias: percussion; Peter Erskine: drums; Bob Stein: alto saxophone; Lou Marini: tenor saxophone; Frank Wess: tenor saxophone; Howard Johnson: baritone saxophone; Randy Emerick: baritone saxophone; Alan Rubin: trumpet; Lee Soloff: trumpet; Jon Faddis: trumpet; Ron Tooley: trumpet; Kenny Faulk: trumpet; David Taylor: trombone; Jim Pugh: trombone; Wayne Andre: trombone; John Clark: French horn; Peter Gordon: French horn; David Bargeron: tuba; Toots Thielemans: harmonica (CD1#4-7, CD2#1, CD2#4, CD2#7).

Title: Truth, Liberty & Soul Live in New York: The Complete NPR Jazz Alive! Recording | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Resonance Records


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