Weather Report – The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981 – Columbia/Legacy (4-CDs)

Weather Report – The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981 – Columbia/Legacy (4-CD set) TT: 237:25 [11/20/15] ****:

Weather Report finally releases vintage performances in a four-CD remastered box set.

(Joe Zawinul – piano, keyboards, ARP Quadra, bass synthesizer; Wayne Shorter – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Jaco Pastorious – bass; Peter Erskine – drums; Robert Thomas, Jr. – hand drums)
Jazz fusion has always generated controversy. By combining elements of rock and funk with complex jazzy time signatures and chords, it attempted to create a wider accessibility using electric instruments. There was a movement in 1960s England to embrace this hybrid genre, most notably with The Graham Bond Organisation (featuring Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker) The jazz community was unenthusiastic about fusion, despite the advocacy and subsequent work by Gary Burton, Larry Coryell and especially Miles Davis. The veteran trumpeter had been a formidable innovator and was respected by his peers. Davis recorded a series of albums which featured a variety of musicians including Chick Corea, Ron Carter, Dave Holland, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock and John McLaughlin. These musicians eventually formed their own bands.

The most enduring “post-Miles” fusion band was Weather Report. Featuring two Davis alumni (Zawinul and Shorter (who met while playing in Maynard Ferguson’s Big Band), the core band eventually included Jaco Pastorius Peter Erskine, and Robert Thomas Jr. The group was renowned for extended improvisation and electronic creativity. In two decades they released 13 studio albums and a pair of live recordings. The public clamored for an in-depth collection of material from the late 1970s and early 1980s, and now it is here!

Legacy has released a 4-CD box set, Weather Report – The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981. Assembled by Peter Erskine and Tony Zawinul, the tracks were recorded originally on cassette and mixed by engineer Brian Risner. Disc One opens with an odd radio transmission that segues into a Zawinul synthesizer. The short piece gives way to a Shorter up-tempo swing number (“Sightseeing”) with furious percussion and bass parts. This feels like hard-edged bebop with driving funk undercurrents. Joe Zawinul is smooth on his Fender Rhodes as the catchy Latin swing of “Brown Street” ensues. Shorter’s tenor is soulful, while Erskine and Thomas drive the tempo. Another Zawinul composition (“The Orphan”) is both atmospheric and spiritual. There is a diversity of sounds and arrangements. There are spacey jams like “Forlorn” and “Three Views Of A Secret” (with a nice swing transition) and exotic numbers like “Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz” (with some unusual percussion and furious bass lines). The disc concludes with phenomenal featured solos by Shorter and Pastorius.

Disc Two (which emphasizes 1978) begins with a vibrant duo performance by Zawinul (who has some distinctive Gershwin-like runs) and Shorter. Weather Report’s most beloved song is “Birdland”. And this ramped-up version is exhilarating. Zawinul and Pastorius are electrifying in an arrangement that is close to the studio version. This represents the band at its most cohesive point. Erskine gets an opportunity to shine on the nearly five-minute “Peter’s Solo”. The band at this time was primarily in a quartet format. There are rarities (“A Remark You Made”) and an extended medley (“Continuum/River People”) that showcase the chemistry in the band, especially among the three instrumentalists. “Gibraltar” is the longest (just over 21 minutes) track and percolates with kinetic energy.

Disc Three features songs from Weather Report’s live album Night Passage. “Fast City’ has some fusion tempos (and a great drum solo), but is extemporaneous with gritty bop swing. The musical journey continues with the wildly unpredictable “Madagascar” – (another great Pastorius bass solo with Zawinul bluesy on piano). Every note by Shorter is perfectly executed. A certain highlight is “Rockin’ In Rhythm”, a fusion-esque homage to big band. Disc Four revisits some of the 1978 Japanese sets. (Note: Most of the Japan 1978 recordings emanated from Brian Risner’s personal cassette tape collection.) Wayne Shorter’s “Elegant People” has some of his best tenor playing of the multi-disc set. He bristles with intensity and hard-edged jazz. The ensemble coalesces around the melodic “Black Market”. Zawinul’s fluid electric piano is complemented by Pastorius’ funk. Shorter takes off on several runs as his band mates propel the song. Another mind-bending (with some Hendrix riffs) solo by Pastorius is followed by the snappy, up tempo “Teen Town”. Then Erskine’s solo morphs into the style-shifting “Directions”, which Zawinul and Shorter imbue with intriguing spontaneity.

Weather Report – The Legendary Live Tapes is a potent representation of a classic jazz fusion band at their peak. The sound quality is very good (but uneven at times due to the older technology). Peter Erskine’s liner notes are outstanding and offer critical details of the performances. The musicianship and musical acuity of this band is captured even in the longer tracks. The packaging (a five-panel gatefold housing the discs and a booklet) is excellent.

TrackList:
Disc One: 8:30; Sightseeing; Brown Street; The Orphan; Forlon; Three Views Of A Secret; Badia/Boogie Waltz; Wayne Solo; Jaco Solo (Osaka 1980)
Disc Two: Joe And Wayne Duet (Tokyo 1978); Birdland; Peter’s Solo; A Remark You Made; Continuum/River People; Gibraltar
Disc Three: Fast City; Madagascar; Night Passage; Dream Clock; Rockin’ In Rhythm; Port Of Entry
Disc Four: Elegant People; Scarlet Women; Black Market; Jaco Solo (Osaka 1978); Teen Town; Peter’s Solo (Osaka 1978); Directions

—Robbie Gerson

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