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Weather Report Goes to the "Black Market" and Finds a Superstar

Jeff Winbush By

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As Weather Report returned to the studio to cut their next album the band was yet again in flux. Gone from 1975's Tale Spinnin' line up were percussionist Alyrio Lima and drummer Ndugu Leon Chancler.

Zawinul explained the latest comings-and-goings in a 1976 interview, "We're always happy with the group, because if we're not happy, we change it. There are a lot of musicians out there in the world. All the people who have played with us are great mother-fucking musicians. They have fantastic skills. But sometimes they're going in one direction and we're going in another one, so we have to make a change. Changing musicians gives us fresh blood, new ideas."

Living up to their name under the guidance of keyboardist Zawinul and saxophonist supreme, Wayne Shorter, the duo were the only constants throughout their 15 year run and they weren't reluctant on pulling the trigger when they felt it was time for a personnel change. Any devotee of the band should already have Curt Bianchi's site, Weather Report: The Annotated Discography bookmarked. It is essential for tons of information and insights about the inner workings of the group including Zawinul explaining the method behind the practice of swapping out musicians.

The new Reporters recruited for the fifth album were drummer Chester Thompson, an expatriate from one of Frank Zappa's numerous Mothers of Invention, where other musicians (George Duke, Vinnie Colaiuta, Jean-Luc Ponty) enhanced their jazz chops and Peruvian percussionist Alejando Acuna. To fill the ever changing drum chair, Thompson was recommended by Alphonso Johnson and Acuna by Don Alias who was departing. Johnson would soon follow to join Duke and Billy Cobham's band and he would be superseded by one John Francis Anthony Pastorius III, otherwise known as "Jaco."

Zawinul explained why Thompson was one-and-done in Weather Report as a decision to go with Pastorious and have Acuna play drums on the next album, Heavy Weather, "Jaco and Chester couldn't play together, couldn't make it. There was a thing went in me, we listened to this and we knew Jaco was the guy because he had the flexibility to grow and Chester was Chester." Heavy Weather was the album and "Birdland" the track which elevated Weather Report off of obscure "Best of" lists of critics and onto radio play and the turntables of fans, but Black Market is equally strong as the set-up left jab for the following roundhouse right punch that would follow a year later.

The opening "Black Market" is one of Zawinul's seething synthesized funk jams as Johnson's thumping bass line riffs away with precision. It also features both Thompson and Walden, but separately from two different recording sessions. Thompson plays the opening with Walden replacing him midway though receiving sole recording credit.

Walden explained the change-up to Zawinul biographer Brian Glasser, "It starts out with Chester, then there's a hard edit onto me when the song changes and switches gears all of a sudden. I play on from there through the whole jam, just smokin.' Wayne's solo was cut live. I played on the whole song, but I think he wanted to keep the opening with Chester because it was so relaxed. Then he wanted a big shot of fire when he cut me in. We maybe played it two or three times. It wasn't too many times, because the fire was so hot. It was hot, man! I was surprised when it came out they didn't use the whole version I cut, but I think it's brilliant the way he did it. I think it's right."

Pastorious makes his Weather Report debut on "Cannon Ball," an ode to Zawinul's former mentor Julian "Cannonball" Adderley whom had passed away in 1975. It's a restrained performance from Pastorious, due in no small part from Zawinul demands during recording he park the pyrotechnics he was capable of and play it straight.

Johnson returns for "Gibraltar" and though not considered as inventive a bassist as Pastorious, he's not exactly cold pizza either. One of the more underrated players of the era, Johnson's career never seemed to take that next level leap, but the hand-off to Pastorious is seamless.

Outwardly, Weather Report looks like a collaborative effort. Zawinul gets three compositions ("Black Market," "Cannon Ball," "Gibraltar"), Shorter has two ("Elegant People," "Three Clowns) and Pastorious ("Barbary Coast") and Johnson ("Herandu") get one each. However, this was not an assemblage of equals. Zawinul and Shorter were the major domos and until Pastorious came aboard, everybody else were mostly sidemen. Extremely talented sidemen who were allowed to contribute a song or two, but sidemen all the same.


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