The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981 is a stellar package of Weather Report concert recordings focusing on that phase of this groundbreaking group's career where they were truly rock stars visiting from a jazz world. It stands as further affirmation of the constant change implied in their name as much as their continual transcendence of the jazz-rock fusion genre.
The unusual size and shape of the 5.5 x 6 inch package thus stands as a very metaphor of Weather Report's refusal to be neatly categorized. Meanwhile, rather than recreate concert sequencing, the four compact discs alternate years of the four and five piece ensembles, thereby illustrating the largely positive impact of the ensemble's expansion and contraction (from a quartet to a quintet then back again) during this three-year period. In his lengthy two-part essay, producer Peter Erskine's informal approach to the background of historical recordings is deceptive: his insight derives as much from his presence on stage as drummer during this time as the hindsight he allows himself in reviewing not just the band's performances on their own terms, but the quality of the recordings.
As a result, while the preceding archival titles of Weather Report's the truly deluxe box set Forecast Tomorrow (Legacy, 2006) and the proportionately excellent double CD collection Live and Unreleased (Legacy, 2002)remain vivid depictions of the group's genius on their own terms, The Legendary Live Tapes is more of a living, breathing document rather than a historical artifact.
Culled from the collections of the band's long-time engineer Brian Risner as well as Erskine's own compendium, this panoply of tracks includes those as short in duration as less than two minutes and as extended a length as twenty-minutes plus. In both configurations of personnel, Weather Report reaffirm their a stylistic continuity through tightly unified collective improvisation interspersed with by solo/duo forays that highlight the virtuosity at work elsewhere (as if that was necessary).
With percussionist Robert Thomas Jr. in tow, the five-member Weather Report almost imperceptibly conjure up a head of steam up to and through "The Orphan" and "Three Views of A Secret," displaying a shared intuitive sense so sharp it does indeed sound like they are constantly moving through multiple moments of pure spontaneity as much as they're exploring the nooks and crannies of melody and rhythm within the unconventional material. And as much and as fully as the four-piece Weather Report four-piece functioned as a rhythm machine, the music the band made in this configuration never relinquished its tangible atmosphere.
Thanks to the expertise of mastering engineer Rich Breen, the clarity and presence of The Legendary Live Tapes magnifies that virtue, revealing how the drama intrinsic to the music of Weather Report had its source their in-the-moment engagement as they interact on compositions as ripe for exploration as "Dream Clock." Not surprisingly, there's also a palpable sense of poise, no doubt arising from the individuals' respective confidence in each other and the resulting stage camaraderie, that permeates their interactions. Similarly, whether Weather Report is exploring originals or paying homage to their roots by playing songs from the estimable canons of Duke Ellington ("Rockin' in Rhythm") and Miles Davis (Directions"), there is always a sense of purpose at work in this musicianship that makes it memorable on first hearing and durable for repeated listening.
CD1 (The Quintet 1980 + 1981):8:30; Sightseeing; Brown Street; The
Forlorn; Three Views of a Secret; Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz; Wayne Solo; Jaco
1980). CD2 (The Quartet 1978): Joe and Wayne Duwt (Tokyo 1978);
Peter's Solo ("drum solo"); A Remark You Made; Continuum/River People;
(The Quintet 1980 + 1981): Fast City; Madagascar; Night Passage;
Rockin' in Rhythm; Port of Entry. CD4 (The Quartet 1978): Elegant
Women; Black Market; Jaco Solo (Osaka 1978); Teen Town; Peter's Solo (Osaka