Essential listening for both faithful and faithless.
Kevin Le Gendre 2011-05-17
Members of the ‘not more old jazz’ lobby might find it hard to raise a smile let alone lend an ear to something like this, but that would be their loss. A previously unreleased concert set captures the fusion pioneers at full tilt and deliciously re-opens the debate on what is the definitive line-up of the group that was spearheaded by Miles Davis alumni, keyboardist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and saw a string of brilliant young tyros come and go over some 15 years of volcanic activity.
Perhaps most controversially, one might argue that bass guitarist Alphonso Johnson was possibly a more effective cog in the futuristic machine than the deified Jaco Pastorious, the man who would replace him and become one of the defining figures on the instrument in the years that followed. Johnson is simply imperious here, his tone both rugged and articulate and his phrasing elaborate and immediate with the kind of roadhouse blues-rock character that entirely suits the brawny and boisterous, testosterone-fuelled bombast that is such a vital part of the WR aesthetic.
Freezing Fire, which opens the set with mucho sturm und drang is a case in point. This is possibly the band at its most red raw, with Johnson’s bass, Chester Thompson’s drums and Alex Acuña’s percussion creating a bubbling whirlpool of what is really heady, hyperactive staccato funk. Furthermore, wild accelerations on the snare provide an excitingly muddy blueprint for the yet-to-be-born jungle producers of the 1990s, a decade which already feels a lifetime ago. But if we’re talking about past, present and future blending and blurring to good effect, then Weather Report were masters of sonic time-travelling.
What really makes this performance extraordinary is the way the keyboard colours and horn motifs conjure up an ancestral, almost dawn-of-time ambience in one bar and then a sci-fi it-came-from-outer-space tone the next, the epitome of which is an absolutely astounding version of Scarlet Woman. Other highlights include a sturdy, groove-heavy Mysterious Traveller and a moody, plaintive Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz. Essential listening for both faithful and faithless.