Jaco Pastorius – Modern American Music…Period! The Criteria Sessions [TrackList follows] – Omnivore Recordings OVCD-84, 66:13 [4/19/14] ****:
(Jaco Pastorius – bass, Fender Rhodes, producer; Bob Economou – drums; Alex Darqui – piano, Fender Rhodes; Othello Molineaux, Sir Cederik Lucious – steel drums; Don Alias – percussion)
The American Bicentennial was a big year for bassist Jaco Pastorius. In 1976, Pastorius’ self-titled debut was issued by Epic Records; he was featured on Weather Report’s album, Black Market; and he was included on the first LPs by two top jazz guitarists, Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life and Al Di Meola’s Land of the Midnight Sun. Pop music fans also took notice. He guested on former Mott the Hoople member Ian Hunter’s All American Alien Boy; and was involved with Joni Mitchell’s Hejira project. He seemingly came out of nowhere. Unlike many up-and-coming jazz artists, Pastorius did not woodshed in the New York City jazz haunts, or jazz clubs in other esteemed metro jazz areas, while learning his craft in various jazz outfits. With all his 1976 activity, Pastorius’ renown increased while his origins remained a mystery; and listeners had the impression he’d burst forth, fully formed.
Pastorius did come from somewhere and he did practice his craft. Part of that journey is detailed on the 66-minute, 11-track compendium, Modern American Music…Period! The Criteria Sessions. This title was released on 2014’s Record Day, as limited edition vinyl and on compact disc. This review refers to the CD. Modern American Music…Period! showcases music from 1974 sessions at Miami’s Criteria Studios, where Pastorius and other players taped demos of Pastorius compositions, plus one cover tune. Jazz scribe Bill Milkowski—who wrote a Pastorius biography—discusses Pastorius’ early days in the 15-page CD liner notes booklet; and describes the music and how it was created. The booklet also includes unseen family photos of Jaco; and an intro from Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, a Jaco enthusiast who owns Jaco’s Fender bass, known as the “Bass of Doom.” Trujillo also co-produced Modern American Music…Period!, and has been busy with a forthcoming Pastorius documentary, Jaco, set to come out at the end of 2014.
Much of the material on Modern American Music…Period! was redone for Pastorius’ 1976 full-length album. Other pieces joined the Weather Report repertoire. And some music is found on Portrait of Jaco: The Early Years 1968-78 (Holiday Park, 2009). But—this is important for Pastorius aficionados—all tracks appear here complete and unedited for the first time. Six of these cuts were extracted from an acetate LP kept by Pastorius’ brother, Gregory. This CD is historically vital, since it represents some of Pastorius’ earliest solo work. But it is also significant because it demonstrates how innovative and technically advanced Pastorius was two years before the world discovered him.
The 11 numbers show a dynamic range. The CD begins with Pastorius’ solo interpretation of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis’ “Donna Lee,” which also opened his 1976 debut. When Pastorius later recorded this in New York City, it became a duet with percussionist Don Alias. This earlier rendition is pure Jaco. His solo electric bass mastery and conceptual intricacy is on maximum display. One caveat about this, and the rest of the music: the sound quality is below hi fidelity, with some tape hiss or noise heard on most cuts. This deficiency doesn’t get in the way from the auditory enjoyment, but is worth mentioning. Though Alias isn’t on “Donna Lee,” he is utilized on others. He’s part of Jaco’s backing band on “Balloon Song (12-Tone),” which is two minutes longer than the version on Portrait of Jaco. Alongside Pastorius and Alias is drummer Bob Economou; and keyboardist Alex Darqui, whom Jaco regularly jammed with prior to these demos. The 12-tone number initiates with a tricky head highlighted by piano and bass, and then proceeds into jam territory energized by Economou’s swinging drums and Alias’ conga groove. There’s an elongated, 13-minute, rare alternate take near the CD’s conclusion, where the 12-tone configuration remains but the swing groove enlarges and Pastorius flaunts his chops.
Afro-Cuban and Caribbean influences can be discerned on pieces with two steel drummers, Othello Molineaux and Cederik Lucious. “Pans No. 1” is a loose jam with a rolling, summery sensation, and is fast and frenetic but also somewhat dreamlike. Unearthly Fender Rhodes adds to the otherworldly characteristic. A similar trait flits through “Opus Pocus (Pans No. 2),” also remodeled for Jaco’s debut. Here, the arrangement is sizably sunnier. Economou’s performance has a Trinidadian intensity which is different than the funk subsequently provided by drummer Lenny White and keyboardist Herbie Hancock, on the 1976 rendering. Yet another tune also on Jaco’s debut is the optimistic, high-tempo “Kuru.” This translation has a fresh attack, since it does not have the strings or sleeker production style on the 1976 revision, and includes some stunning Alias percussion rhythms, and illustrates why he was the go-to percussionist for numerous artists.
Pastorius’ quieter side emerges on two takes of “Continuum.” A ten-minute medley blends “Havona” with “Continuum.” “Havona” was rejected for Jaco’s 1976 LP but surfaced on Weather Report’s 1977 release, Heavy Weather. On the medley, Pastorius has a woody tone which has an upright bass sound. An independent, four-minute “Continuum” has a softer, more lyrical flair with rhythmic effects from Economou’s cymbals and brushes, and Alias’ hand percussion. Another variation in tone comes at the end, when Pastorius performs a brief, charming, early adaptation of “Forgotten Love,” with Pastorius alone on Fender Rhodes. It’s as effective as the one Hancock did on acoustic piano with string accompaniment on Pastorius’ 1976 album. As mentioned before, Modern American Music is not a polished, audiophile package. This is demo music which Pastorius probably would not have issued in his lifetime, and these are not definitive versions. This CD is meant for Pastorius fans, not for those who have heard his name but are not deeply familiar with his music. For newbies, the 2007 compilation, The Essential Jaco Pastorius, is a good starter. For long-time Jaco listeners, this youthful music (Pastorius was 22 when he demo’ed this material) will be a welcome appendage to the Pastorius discography.
TrackList: Donna Lee; Balloon Song (12-Tone); Pans No. 1; Havona/Continuum; Kuru; Continuum; Opus Pocus (Pans No. 2); Time Lapse; Balloon Song (12-Tone) (alternate); Time Lapse (alternate); Forgotten Love