Columbia dig in the vaults again and come up with two hours of prime electric jazz...
Peter Marsh 2002
Though the excesses of 70s fusion (dry ice, triple necked guitars, mini moog solos dedicated to Walt Disney characters, concertos for jazz-rock orchestras etc) are now regarded by many with distaste, the legacy of Weather Report seems to have escaped with its credibility intact.
Columbia's recent reissue programme of early classics such as Sweetnighter, Mysterious Traveller and the neglected Tale Spinnin' were a reminder that Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter's outfit were operating on a whole other level from the grim prog rock flash of Return to Forever and the Mahavishnu Orchestra; they were funky, atmospheric and most importantly they didn't measure musical worth in terms of the amount of notes they could squeeze into a bar.
Live and Unreleased compiles live recordings from between 1975 and 1983, with several different lineups including bassists Alphonso Johnson and Jaco Pastorius and proves that despite their orchestrated approach to the studio, the band were a different proposition live, particularly in the earlier lineup. The opening "Freezing Fire" (from Tale Spinnin') is a case in point; from the off Thompson and the much underrated Johnson are on fire, generating ferocious octopoidal grooves under Shorter's long toned soprano and Zawinul's electric piano stabs.
LIkewise "Cucumber Slumber" is classic booty shakin' spacefunk, with Shorter's fruity, oblique tenor given plenty of room, and 'The Man in the Green Shirt" (one of Zawinul's loveliest melodies) is given a rigorous workout. "Directions" is taken at a furious lick too, with Shorter's questing saxophones and Zawinul's wobbly synth runs rising on the thermals generated by the rhythm section.
The arrival of the virtuoso Pastorius marked a move towards more ornately composed material, with his trademark singing fretless bass (imagine Scott La Faro or Charlie Mingus in a zero gravity environment) providing chords and melody lines. Performances like the blister inducing "Teen Town" or the solo bass feature "Portrait of Tracy" spawned thousands of lesser imitators, though few (if any) of them posessed Jaco's ability to make every note (and there are a lot of them) count.
While Shorter's saxophone increasingly took a back seat in the later music (and very rarely tenor), it's his performances that often lift these live versions above their studio counterparts. In particular "Elegant People" and "Fast City" both feature sustained, concentrated blasts of prime Shorter soloing.
Zawinul is on top form. His Fender Rhodes/wah wah combination offers surgically placed bursts of pure funk (check his doubling up with Pastorious on "Teen Town" while he plays chords and lead lines - how many hands has this man got ?), and his solos are as distinctively odd as ever. While the 1983 tracks (the overlong, episodic "Where the Moon Goes", complete with vocoder, and the slightly cheesy "Plaza Real") display Zawinul's tendency to overdo it a bit, on the whole this wonderful collection casts a new light on one of the finest exponents of the 'f word' that there have ever been. Corking.
Like This? Try These:
Weather Report - Mysterious Traveller
Weather Report - Tale Spinnin'