Weather Report




Of the classic fusion groups, Weather Report lasted the longest, from 1971 through the mid-80s. Founders Joe Zawinul (keyboards), Wayne Shorter (saxophones), and Miroslav Vitous (bass) each reported an outstanding resume in traditional jazz, and both Zawinul and Shorter were major contributors to Miles Davis’ songbook. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, fusion was at its best when there wasn’t even a word for it, let alone an expectation of what it was supposed to be. Weather Report’s early music searched for its own rules. As the group aged, the writing became more explicit, though they still avoided sounding like anyone else. In 1974, Miroslav Vitous was dumped, and this is roughly where one can divide the Old and New eras. An ensuing parade of rhythm sections enabled Zawinul and Shorter to explore global stews, pop-funk, or just flaunt their chops (especially when bassist Jaco Pastorius was part of the lineup). The thoroughly immodest Zawinul became dominant over time, outweighing Shorter with his expanding compositions and synthesizer palette.

My favorite WR records are the early ones up through Mysterious Traveller. The more popular titles like Black Market and Heavy Weather were important to me as a younger listener, too. I’ve never been keen on the final albums, which I won’t even review.



Weather Report
Feb-Mar 1971 / Columbia

Appropriately, the group assembles its modus operundi from scratch, playing music that is sort of like free jazz on a new frontier. The program opens with a cosmic collage of resonating piano strings (“Milky Way”) and closes with walking swing (“Eurydice”); in the middle are several tracks that escape classification. The main premise is simultaneous improv, or as Zawinul put it, “We always solo and we never solo.” Zawinul’s piano (acoustic and electric), Shorter’s saxes, and Vitous’ bass are all mutually supportive above the flexible drumming of Alphonse Mouzon. Percussionist Airto Moreira appears on this one album, and there are apparently a couple of uncredited percussionists here as well.

The most memorable melodies are Zawinul’s serene musing “Orange Lady” and Shorter’s “Tears”, a ballad with a couple of groovy climaxes. Both “Morning Lake” and “Waterfall” are also concerned with melody, although the similar flatness of the tunes (not helped by sequencing them back to back) drags them down a bit. More turbulent is “Seventh Arrow”, a unilateral stroke of spiky motifs. The funky “Umbrellas” and the jazzy “Eurydice” are thematically aloof houses for the band to decorate at will. Unlike the colorful spray of later WR albums, the sound of this record is stark, with only a ring modulator on the electric piano and some electric bass to differentiate it from acoustic jazz. (The ghostly clouds in “Milky Way” come from Shorter blowing a sax at the piano’s soundboard as Zawinul holds chords down.)

Despite the slightly dull sequence in the middle, the debut is important for what it suggests about how a group can interact. Weather Report is a worthy successor to the experiments Miles was brewing a year or two earlier, and parts of it still sound fresh today.


I Sing the Body Electric
Dec 1971-Jan 1972 / Columbia

Have you ever loved an album so much that you didn’t listen to it too often for fear that repeated exposure might diminish the special feeling it first had? Those two albums in the jazz world for me were Chick Corea’s Now He Sings Now He Sobs and Weather Report’s I Sing the Body Electric, both of which transfixed me as a neophyte. Eventually, I started spinning them with more frequency, and thankfully their moods were never lost.

What gets me going on Body Electric is the otherworldly style of the four studio tracks, which are followed by excerpts from a Tokyo gig (captured in full on Live in Tokyo) in a dreamy/gritty dichotomy. Drummer Eric Gravatt and percussionist Dom Um Romao are now in the working band, and both are as good as anyone else who ever filled those slots in Weather Report, in my opinion. A few guests augment the studio half.

“Unknown Soldier”: A narrative Zawinul composition that tells of gathering conflict, confusion, and hope - at least that’s how I hear it. In the absence of traditional form, the players intuitively guide the mood shifts, and the soundstage interlaces numerous elements: insistent ride cymbal, martial snare, keys/sax exchanges, trumpet/flute/English horn motifs, a wordless vocal chorus, Vitous’ bass reconnaissance, and Romao’s deft percussion fills. Altogether it makes for an unprecedented landscape.

“The Moors”: My response to first hearing Ralph Towner’s 12-string guitar on this track was “Where can I hear more Ralph Towner?” His jagged solo prelude leads into a twisting groove and ethereal soprano sax tones that eventually posit a “dark to light” transition, much like “Unknown Soldier”.

“Crystal”: An abstract aquarium with arco glyphs from Vitous (whose intonation taunts the ears) and Zawinul lurking on organ and electric piano. The “tune” doesn’t follow an obvious path but reaches couple of climactic moments. I find it hard to stomach the vast majority of Shorter’s soprano sax, seemingly his preference over tenor in WR. However, in “Crystal” and “The Moors”, the soprano is beautifully pitched, and the reverb lends a haunting hand.

“Second Sunday in August”: A bittersweet reverie reminiscent of simple Zawinul melodies like “In a Silent Way”. The fragile core of the tune is ensconced in a churning rhythm, topped by tympani jolts and a bright piano line. I don’t know how to describe the effect of this piece except to say it has a hard-edged beauty.

The live cuts are more down to earth, sparked by Gravatt’s drumming and Zawinul’s raunchy electric piano. Zawinul also experiments with prepared acoustic piano (the choked flutters in “Surucucu”), while Vitous bounces between low bass parts and up-front melodies with amazing grace. The opening medley, which involves a couple of Vitous pieces and Zawinul’s “Dr. Honoris Causa”, has some razor-sharp Shorter solos, as does the closing “Directions”. In the middle is the multi-part “Surucucu”, invested with various sounds and lanes of attack. Most of the live playing, as with the studio stuff thus far, leaves a lot of open space for the players. Zawinul once lamented that this approach is a risky one, in that the magical nights don’t always happen. Well, this was a good night.

As much as this album enthralls me, it’s not for everyone, and it’s difficult to explain the subjective impact, anyway. I can only praise the “uncharted terrain” aspect and the mysterious nature of the studio half.


Live in Tokyo
Jan. 1972 / Columbia

Here’s the full monty that was condensed for half of I Sing the Body Electric. Disc 1 contains the unexpurgated sequence of that same material – the “Seventh Arrow/Honoris Causa” medley, “Surucucu”, “Directions” – all of which have longer solos, more transitional improv, and a slightly different mix than what you hear on Body Electric. Disc 2 includes a lengthy “Orange Lady”, a “Moors/Eurydice” sequence, and a closing bout of “Tears/Umbrellas”. As a sample of the early Weather Report sound that was soon to disappear forever, this is a valuable document. However, I think Body Electric contains the best Tokyo has to offer, and so someone who owns that album doesn’t really need to seek this out, not unless they’re completist or just hooked on this lineup.


Sweetnighter
1973 / Columbia

A funky groove starts a-bumping. Zawinul unabashedly said that the group had families to feed, and WR’s preceding music wasn’t destined to keep everyone in filet mignons for life. However, the contemporary funkiness of the two main tracks here, “Boogie Woogie Waltz” and “125th Street Congress”, aren’t sell-outs by any means, as the vague collective-improv approach is still present, and both are too long for airplay. Hired guns Andrew White (electric bass, and who also added English horn to Body Electric) and Herschel Dwellingham (drums) provide the catchy bottom of these pieces while the main Reporters fiddle around on top. “Boogie Woogie Waltz” rides a funky 3/4 with an angular theme (rendered on Zawinul’s new ARP synthesizer) that appears several minutes into the track, only after the group has cooked up a steaming preface. The theme of “125th Street Congress” is much sketchier, although the groove is deep and Zawinul feeds it well with his phase/wah electric piano. Shorter’s soprano noodlings, on the other hand, are a tuneless irritation. I ignore Shorter most of the time on Sweetnighter, which still leaves a fine album, but it would be so much better if Wayne had picked up the tenor sax instead.

The other four pieces include Vitous’ hypnotic “Will” and Zawinul’s heavenly “Adios”. From Shorter’s pen comes “Manolete”, which has a cool bass part, and the stratospheric fragment “Non Stop Home”. Sweetnighter is usually said to mark a new direction for Weather Report, but I think that jumps the gun. It straddles the line between the free past and the steadier rhythms of the future, and the players still have lots of room to roam around.


Mysterious Traveller
1974 / Columbia

Another transitional album, perfectly titled. Eric Gravatt is out, and Miroslav Vitous has his founding partnership revoked. His replacement, Alphonso Johnson, is an excellent electric bassist who helps define the group’s new sound. The stopgap drummers are Ishmael Wilburn and Skip Hadden, who sometimes play in tandem. Much of Mysterious Traveller is built upon Zawinul’s banks of keyboards, and with Shorter as usual the lyrical decoration on top.

“Nubian Sundance”: First stop is a festive ceremony with rich keyboards, double drums, percussion, and occasional vocals. This scenic composition investigates a series of motifs along a one-way trip, guided by Zawinul’s lines and riffs that course in an inimitable way. A very uplifting and ambitious piece.

“American Tango”: Miroslav Vitous makes a brief final appearance on this vignette that, despite a charming melody, has little direction. Luminous Fender Rhodes and casual sax phrases make up for it. It’s like a small tune that wants to grow up to be a big one someday.

“Cucumber Slumber”: Alphonso Johnson comes to the fore in a bass-heavy workout where Wayne shines his saxes and Zawinul continues to be Mr. Cool on electric piano. As outright funky as WR has been to date.

“Mysterious Traveller”: A Wayne Shorter tune based on a limping piano/drum riff. If the whole arrangement had continued in this akimbo limbo, it’d be silly, but Zawinul expands the atmosphere with great counterlines midway through. The last half of the track has a combination of texture and sound that speaks to the listener’s imagination, and I think it is the high point of the album.

“Blackthorn Rose”: This sax-piano duet (with a few overdubs) is hardly the musical pinnacle that the liner essay and its inclusion on compilations might have you believe. Shorter’s frivolous soprano and Zawinul’s coyness makes it seem like they’re trying to hide from the tune, which is not a gem to begin with.

“Scarlet Woman”: An eerie moodscape of soft drum beats, bass, and startling melody strikes, like lightning upon an overnight caravan. Repetitive, methinks, but I’ll buy the atmosphere.

“Jungle Book”: A homemade Zawinul track with piano and voice surrounded by percussion, tamboura, and whatnot. It has a touching intimacy, sort of like Keith Jarrett’s Spirits would a decade later. As a finale, though, it’s anticlimactic, and the album already sounded like it was petering out two tracks ago.

My only complaint with Mysterious Traveller is the sequencing. After the consistency of the first four tracks, the last three pursue radically exclusive directions, capped by the fact that “Jungle Book” would sound out of place anywhere. Top heavy, in other words. Nevertheless, a very good record.


Tale Spinnin’
1975 / Columbia

Underrated, overlooked - yeah, yeah. The worldly Tale Spinnin’ eliminates all extraneous wandering in favor of written structure; in other words, Zawinul really puts his composing foot down this time. Lively arrangements are packed to the brim with colorful keyboards, sunny sax, and the percussives of Ndugu Chancler and Alyrio Lima. The title is apt because the music attempts to tell involved stories rather than just being theme-and-solos. It’s also kind of a stiff record, because these extended forms (like “Man in the Green Shirt” and “Freezing Fire”) require much concentration just to execute correctly. Featured solos are stuffed into available slots instead of collective improvising, thus the old Weather Report style is hereby banished for good.

My favorite track is “Between the Thighs”, based on a hip electric piano vamp and involving lots of complex layers. Throughout the cheery melodies and dark middle section, every note sounds scripted, yet it has a natural feel. Second favorite is Shorter’s “Lusitanos”, which after a grand exposition makes its way to sterling solos from the head honchos. I think the main melody of “Man in the Green Shirt” is rather cheesy, but the tune has plenty else in store, synthetic bird chirps notwithstanding. These three tracks make up the first half of the album in reverse order.

Zawinul’s “Badia” floats an innocent melody over exotic punctuations. Wayne’s MIA, and what to say about that chipmunk? “Freezing Fire” is, like “Green Shirt”, full of verve yet perhaps a little too busy. The closing Zawinul-Shorter duet, “Five Short Stories”, is superior to “Blackthorn Rose” from the last album. The tune is better (or should I say tunes), and Wayne’s tenor beats his soprano.

In WR’s catalog, Tale Spinnin’ sits in a self-contained space - it sounds like the group is on vacation on a sunny isle. I have mostly a positive impression of it, though the playing is more calculated than the ambiguous allure of the past. What you hear nowadays is what you get.


Black Market
1976 / Columbia

The classic Black Market blends a pan-ethnic outlook with a strong jazz-funk feel. Incoming drummer Chester Thompson (he of the Genesis future) fits perfectly with bassist Alphonso Johnson and new percussionist Alex Acuna. Bassist Jaco Pastorius also makes his debut on two tracks, displaying his capacity for beautiful melody (“Cannonball”) and overplaying (“Barbary Coast”). Wayne Shorter is in fine form, although I’m not sold on the Lyricon synth-sax he employs on a couple of tracks. Joe Zawinul balances swirly electric piano with a wide range of tones from the ARP 2600.

The first and last cuts on the album rank among WR’s all-time best. “Black Market” is a Zawinul piece in three parts: a bouncy crescendo with a serpentine synth melody; a blaring fanfare; and a groovy sax solo section. Further scene setting comes from audio-verite sound effects at the beginning and end of the track. (This also occurs in “Barbary Coast”, bookended by train sounds, and the nautical prelude to “Gibraltar”.) Heard as a soundtrack, “Black Market” depicts a bustling village over the course of a day. At the other end of the album, Alphonso Johnson’s “Herandnu” features an evocative exposition and a tough 11/4 jam. Despite the abrupt joins between the sections, I put “Herandnu” in the top drawer with no hesitation.

In between those pillars are the likes of “Cannonball”, a drippy yet moving farewell to Julian Adderley, “Gibraltar”, a funky riff-fest, and Jaco’s “Barbary Coast”, a soulful doodle with funny ring-mod keyboard. Wayne Shorter’s “Elegant People” has an interesting stature, part jet-set luxury, part tropical funk. “Three Clowns” provides a desolate canvas for Wayne’s Lyricon. Neither great nor bad, it sounds like an attempt to capture the mysterious traveling of old.

The 2002 remastered edition renewed my appreciation for this recording. So much detail is heard, from the quietest cymbals (“Three Clowns”) up to the fortissimo impact of “Gibraltar”. Artistically, Black Market is one of the group’s most coherent and accessible works.


Heavy Weather
1977 / Columbia

A lot of people only know Weather Report from the modernized big-band pastiche “Birdland”, a compilation-friendly favorite that resides on this popular album. Don’t take the sales figures of Heavy Weather to mean that the group somehow “got it right” this time - it’s not their peak. Neither did they sell out - “Birdland” is popular because it’s so well crafted, filled with four solid hooks by my count, and covered with Oberheim synth brass. In a nutshell, this album combines exceptional musicianship with listener-friendly writing and arrangements; the results are superb yet also more refined, let’s say, than previous efforts.

Regarding personnel, Alex Acuna has moved to the drums, and Manolo Badrena takes over percussion. (They keep the drummer’s seat warm in this group, eh?) Bassist Jaco Pastorius comes on strongly as a full-time member, contributing the disco-bop of “Teen Town” and the driving “Havona”, a supreme jazz-rock thesis. Jaco also shines in “A Remark You Made”, a long, sappy ballad from Zawinul. (Whose synth solo at the end is marvelous, by the way.) Short of spilling my guts about Pastorius here, I admire his brilliance yet find him overbearing sometimes, pushing his bass up front where it doesn’t always belong. Yet on Heavy Weather, he does a lot of tasteful, thrilling work, and “Havona” is downright gripping, especially the chord kicks and dramatic final cadence.

Two sleepers that no one ever mentions: Wayne’s “Palladium”, every bit as catchy as “Birdland”, and Zawinul’s “The Juggler”, a happy/sad cauldron of percussion and burrowing synth lines. These two tracks (along with “Havona”) make the album for me. That leaves only the percussion duet “Rumba Mama” and the limpid “Harlequin”. Thanks to Jaco and “Birdland”, Heavy Weather is a default classic in the history books, but despite the bright moments I don’t find it as substantial as Black Market.


Mr. Gone
1978 / Columbia

This is Weather Report’s Tormato, and if you don’t get that quip, I mean that it’s a schizophrenic collection of quirky, half-baked kur-rap. It’s fashionable to reassess some of the odd ‘70s fusion albums (On the Corner, Sextant, etc.) as pre-post-modernist whatever, but that doesn’t mean they’re all good. The only thing here that fully works is Jaco’s disco jam “River People”, because it knows what it’s doing and it’s got a fat groove. I also like the percussive mosaic of “Pursuit of the Woman in the Feathered Hat”, although the chanting makes me cringe. After those tracks come R&B fluff (“Young and Fine”, the incomplete “And Then”), an empty moodscape (“The Elders”), a strange neo-swing piece (the title track, goosed by fat synth-bass), and a jam on Shorter’s “Pinocchio” with the solos chopped off. Pastorius’ “Punk Jazz”, with its imposing chord march, is a fine composition weakened by the mix. That’s another problem - the slick sound of this record shafts the guest drummers Steve Gadd (absolutely anonymous in “Young and Fine”) and Tony Williams, who may as well have been recorded inside a Ziploc bag on “Mr. Gone”. Peter Erskine makes his debut here and would become a full-time member.

I think the blame for this patchwork comes down to Zawinul, who was running the group by this point, yet his philosophy for Mr. Gone is something along the lines of “Ah, whatever.” He’s more interested in stacking up as many synthesizer sounds as possible than making a consistent record. Funny thing is, if this had been marketed as an odds ‘n ends outtake collection, it’d be an acceptable curiosity. But a full-fledged album? “You liked Heavy Weather, now check this out”? A disgrace.


8:30
1979 / Columbia

And here’s “Three Sides Live” from the quartet of Zawinul, Shorter, Pastorius, and Erskine. Spirited as these concert versions of “Black Market”, “Birdland”, and “Boogie Woogie Waltz” are, I don’t favor any of them over their studio takes. Maybe it’s a loss of detail, maybe it’s the rock and roll atmosphere. (Ahoy, there are featured solo spots, too. Put yo hands together.) The “fourth side” is made up of four new studio pieces, interesting to different degrees. The festive groove of “Brown Street” is pretty sweet. Shorter and Zawinul make a fine duet out of “The Orphan” until a bunch of kids start singing - ugh. The delightful “Sightseeing” is a throwback to swinging jazz. I suppose this disc is essential for Jaco-era fans but I don’t have any strong attachment to it.


Night Passage
1980 / Columbia

Two notable improvements on the Mr. Gone shit show are a) Night Passage is made by a tight working band, and b) Mr. Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone is back in the house. His searing solo in “Fast City”, for one, should appease those who wondered where the hell he was on recent albums. Meanwhile, Jaco shows off his chops (“Port of Entry”) and Zawinul keeps moving forward with the synths. The music has a jazzier feel than we’ve heard in some time (Duke’s “Rockin’ in Rhythm”) while still being funky and aggressive, and on that note, I’ve always thought of “Night Passage” as the sinister cousin of “Birdland”. “Port of Entry” develops a few sparse ideas then charges full steam ahead. Suggestive motifs in “Madagascar” (recorded live) prompt the band into collective exploration, and we haven’t heard that in a while, either. Many regard Jaco’s “Three Views of a Secret” as his ultimate composition; it sounds unfocused to me, although my Brilliance Detector is sometimes on the fritz. I won’t ever be convinced that “Dream Clock” is anything more than vapid smooth jazz. It was only a matter of time before Wayne’s soprano and Joe’s pastel synth pads started to have that connotation.

Even with a few good tracks, Night Passage marks the end of the line for me, and in hindsight, I think Heavy Weather is their last major record. By this point, they’re coasting on ability and name.


Live and Unreleased
rec. 1975-1983, rel. 2002 / Columbia

A two-disc live collection that begins in the Backbeat Era, totally ignoring the fact that someone named Miroslav Vitous may have once been part of the group. This set enriches the WR legacy, but it’s a mixed bag. Here’s an excerpt of a newspaper review I wrote a few years ago that still sums up my reaction:

“The irony is that these performances rely on a top-name parade of drummers, bassists, and percussionists whose energy tends to overwhelm Zawinul’s colorful keyboards and Shorter’s increasingly insignificant sax. For the overture of “Freezing Fire” or the funky gait of “Cucumber Slumber”, it’s appropriate. But the constant testosterone barrage soon kills the goose, and whatever subtleties some of these tunes may have had go missing. By the time of 1983’s “Where the Moon Goes”, even taste disappears, as Zawinul’s vocoder (!) doggerel leads into a clinical synth-drums exchange of the worst sort.”

The producers did a clever thing in making this un-chronological. Maybe they were trying to construct an “ultimate setlist,” yet they also equalized the different lineups so that you can’t easily say which is best - or worst. The grooviest stuff comes from 1975 with Alphonso Johnson and Chester Thompson. They pound out some Tale Spinnin’ material and play a fantastic “Directions - Dr. Honoris Causa” medley (the one track I return to on my promo copy). The selections from the Pastorius-Erskine phase have too much energetic showboating for my taste, yet the menacing air of “Night Passage” works well. Pastorius also gets a patchy bass solo, and a 1977 lineup drags the audience twice around the house of “Teen Town”. By 1983, things are so calculated I don’t care anymore.

If I had to summarize the majority of this music, it would be fat beats and histrionics. Chops Central. There’s nothing wrong with that - and one could lament the fact that such musicianship no longer has the place it once did for pop audiences - but it doesn’t represent what I like best about Weather Report. Anyway, if you want to be bowled over by a lot of hyperactive world-funk-jazz, it’s here.


Forecast: Tomorrow
released 2006 / Columbia

A three-disc overview (plus a bonus DVD), and you bet your cowbell I’ve got some questions. Where’s “The Moors”? Where’s “Boogie Woogie Waltz”? How about “Mysterious Traveller”? Where are “Between the Thighs”, “Lusitanos”, “Herandnu”, “Teen Town”, or “Night Passage”? Why instead do we hear “Blackthorn Rose”, “Three Clowns”, and “Dream Clock”? Don’t talk about not enough space, because the set begins with the Miles Davis recording of “In a Silent Way” (who wouldn’t own it already?) and the Wayne Shorter Blue Note cut “Super Nova”. Nice tracks, of course, but they’re not Weather Report. Meanwhile, Disc 3 ends with an embarrassing rap-n-scratch remix of “125th St. Congress”. I can’t believe I let that garbage into my house, and I can’t believe that Zawinul still harps on the connection between the “Congress” groove and hip-hop. Yeah, we get it, you’ve been sampled, like it’s a badge of honor. Don’t feed the trolls, man.

The rarities here are a studio version of “Directions”, a longer version of the debut’s “Eurydice”, and a live version of “Nubian Sundance” that sounds crummy but has a lot of energy at the end. Fun for the connoisseur but not reason enough in themselves to acquire the boxset.

Selections from the 1980s WR albums appear on Disc 3, and despite the praise in the liner essay, I think this music spins in the wake of something that’s already sailed. No disrespect intended to Victor Bailey (bass) and Omar Hakim (drums), but I can’t get behind third-generation chop-meisters who sound a little too slick. It’s really down to Zawinul, though, and what Jaco called his techno-overkill. The majority of these tracks are like colorful wallpaper to me, although “Procession” (1983) is quite cool.

The DVD presents a 1978 concert with Zawinul, Shorter, Pastorius, and Erskine. A/V quality is decent while the music varies. You can gauge it by looking at Wayne - at times he blows up a storm (“Black Market”, “Elegant People”), and other times he looks bored out of his mind (“River People”, “Birdland”, repeating the same lines over and over.) Meanwhile, tech heads can watch Zawinul coordinate electric piano, ARP 2600, a Prophet 5 (I think), an Oberheim, and acoustic piano. On the other side of the stage, Jaco prowls and struts, fingers never flagging. It would be hard to guess that Peter Erskine became a very subtle drummer down the road because his WR playing is way too busy. Watching him on this DVD is exhausting - calm down, it’s just drumming! And please, put your shirt back on.

Presenting a history of this ever-evolving group is a tough task, I’ll grant. Forecast Tomorrow has its merits, like the booklet, dandy packaging, and several classic tracks. However, there are big omissions and I don’t think the DVD is something to watch repeatedly. My recommendation is to go for the individual albums instead, at least through Black Market.





Picks

If I could only have three WR albums, they would be I Sing the Body Electric, Mysterious Traveller, and Black Market. Give me a couple more, I’ll take Weather Report and Sweetnighter. The earliest stuff has a sense of adventure that sounds less dated than the MIDI-fied later albums.



Zawinul

I often praise Joe Zawinul’s creativity with synthesizers, at least through the mid-70s. He had a true understanding of how they worked and how they could be manipulated. He once told Len Lyons in an interview that “the trouble with most electronic music is that it sounds electronic.” To counter that, Zawinul pursued natural warmth in many of his synth sounds, such as the opening melody in “Black Market”. The trouble with Zawinul’s later synth work is that it often does “sound electronic.” As for duplicating real instruments, Zawinul said in the same interview that “I can get a clarinet sound from a synthesizer not because there’s a button that says clarinet but because I can blow the thing myself.” I like that philosophy, though I don’t know that synth “recreations” always work.

The other interesting thing about Zawinul is the rhythmic flow of his melodies and counterlines. In “Nubian Sundance”, maybe the best example, nothing is accented right on top of the pulse. This tells of Zawinul’s traditional background, because if you listen to his phrases by themselves, they have an inherent swing. Combined with multi-ethnic percussion, you get the unique Weather Report feel.




Shorter

It’s generally said that Wayne “disappeared” or was underutilized in Weather Report. That’s not true for the first two years, though as Zawinul grew into a one-man orchestra, Shorter assumed the role of utility soloist and ensemble player, sometimes reduced to very sparse playing indeed. He played a lot more on stage than on record, to be fair.

His WR composing delves into new areas and doesn’t always have the straightforward brilliance of his ‘60s jazz writing. Nevertheless, one can hear Shorter’s typical craftiness in the likes of “Elegant People” and “Palladium”.




The Bassists

Apples and oranges. I prefer the Body Electric lineup not least for Miroslav Vitous’ groundbreaking work. His jazz-style agility is different from the funk ostinatos that many fusion bassists were wont to play. However, beware his intonation whenever he uses a bow. Alphonso Johnson is the perfect pocket player - always in the right place, never showing off. I admire the general genius of Jaco Pastorius even though I think his playing is often over the top. His basslines have so many choked accents and such a range of time values that he’s essentially his own drummer, and the only thing the real drums can do is either accent with Jaco or stay out of the way. On the other hand, Jaco’s deep knowledge of jazz harmony separated him from most of the athletic chops-bassists he inspired.


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