The overlooked fifth album from the fusion giants gets a 24 bit wash and brush up...
Peter Marsh 2002-11-20
Of all the 'fusion' bands formed by ex employees of Miles Davis, Weather Report were a breed apart. Less flashy than Mahavishnu or Return to Forever, more worldly than Mwandishi, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter created music that was tuneful, accessible yet (in their early years) blurred and pushed boundaries in a way that few others did.
Tale Spinnin' was their fifth album and as Hal Miller points out in his sleevenote, is the overlooked gem in the Weather Report back catalogue. As it came between the classic Mysterious Traveller and the arrival of bass hero Jaco Pastorius on the follow up Black Market, maybe that's not too surprising, but it's an album that marks a turning point for the band and (more importantly) contains some stunning music.
While Mysterious Traveller took the juicy funk pileups of Sweetnighter and took them on a journey to some uncharted rain-forested planet, Tale Spinnin' is content to hover in the upper reaches of the stratosphere. Zawinul's use of the synthesizer is more pronounced; while bootlegs from the same period find him whipping up electric storms Sun Ra style, here the electronics areorchestrally placed,doubling Shorter's soprano or describing arcs of sweeped bass. The usual Fender Rhodes/wah wah pedal combination provides the trademark Zawinul vamps; funkier than a box of frogs, constantly tickling the ear yet never overplaying.
Drummer Ndugu Chancellor comes across as the first Weather Report drummer to really engage with the music (in the studio at any rate). While previous albums had backgrounded the drums or swamped them in reverb, here they'reupfront in the mix. Chancellor's drive and flair coupled with Alphonso Johnson's fleet, bubbling bass and Alryio Lima's percussion powers proceedings with a joyous, grin inducing elan, from the opening high altitude latin groove of "Man with the Green Shirt" to the furiously funked "Freezing Fire" or the humid Fourth World soundscapes of "Badia".
Despite the more through composed approach showcased on this album, there's no shortage of exploratory, improvisational playing; as usual Shorter is utterly distinctive on both tenor and soprano, firing off solos that are equal part inspiration and consideration."Five Short Stories", his closing duet with Zawinul, is a tour de force of restraint, lyricism and precision; each phrase built with architectural logic, each note articulated with a sculptor's care.
Life affirming, joyous, tender stuff from some of the finest musicians on the planet; essential.