The Word is
Out! by Jaco Pastorius Big Band – reviewed by Chris Mann
you talk about “smooth jazz”, you probably don’t think of Weather
Report but when you talk about the world’s greatest jazz bassists,
there’s little doubt that Jaco Pastorius’ name would be mentioned.
Though the last time we heard Jaco play was over 20 years ago, his
songwriting is revered almost as much as his dazzling technique.
This, the second Heads Up release by the Jaco Pastorius Big Band, is a
true homage to both.
Dania is a
great swinging opener. It never misses a beat and it’s propelled by
master drummer Peter Erskine. Fabulous solos come from bassist Gerald
Veasley and Randy Brecker on trumpet. I love the way that the brassy
intro to Las Olas belies the mellow groove that runs through
this lovely samba. Jean ‘Toots’ Thielmans’ sound has fascinated me
for over twenty years and his contribution on this number certainly
Bassist Mark Egan lends an uncharacteristically mellow tone on
fretless bass to Pat Metheny’s Sirabhorn. Mike Stern’s
trademark heavily-chorused guitar carries the melody for much of the
song. I’m drawn in by the lovely counterpoint being played out
between the horn and reed players and I particularly enjoy the (uncredited)
piano part. Victor Wooten brings the funk to the offbeat Beaver
Patrol and possibly we should assume that Peter Erskine is helping
him to jump back and forth across this rhythmically complex number.
Wooten lets fly with a solo and though the arrangement gets a little
dense with brass stabs coming from every direction, the funk shines
Richard Bona plays it cool but solid on fretless bass under Mike
Levine’s soulful electric piano on Joe Zawinul’s Cannonball.
There is some passionate tenor blowing here – it’s fantastic stuff! I
always loved Kuru/Speak Like a Child from Jaco’s first album.
Yellowjackets’ Jimmy Haslip keeps that 16th-note bassline
running as on the original and Mike Levine takes on co-writer Herbie
Hancock’s piano duties brilliantly.
dizzying brass runs that close the song make a fitting tribute – this
is a lovely timewarp for me.
Three Views of a Secret
features a lyrical bass solo intro by Oteil Burbridge and this
alternately melodic and intense song features the soprano sax of Ed
Calle. The clarinet, flute and flugelhorn wind beautifully round each
other and the other instruments as the song ebbs and flows like the
tide. Richard Bona delivers some stunning high-register bass work on
Blackbird/Word of Mouth. Peter Erskine’s drumming is
astounding. Arturo Sandoval’s distinctive, fiery trumpet gives the
second half of the song its Latin pizzazz.
Bona and Erskine team up again for the gently reggae-fied Good
Morning Anya, with sweet backing vocals and the lilting Caribbean
sound of Othello’s steel pans- shades of Andy Narell. For sheer
smile-inducement this ties as my favourite with Beaver Patrol. The
chugging River People stays true to the original – from Weather
Report’s “Mr Gone” album. Will Lee drives things along with his
super-tight 16th-note riff. This could have been written
yesterday. Fantastic! Reza is the only song on which we hear
Jaco himself. Talented arranger Peter Graves isolated the bass part
from a 1982 live recording and the band built the song around that.
The result is a seamless combination of Jaco’s passion and the energy
of this stellar band. What a fabulous closer.
It’s unlikely, I think, that you’ll have read this far without having
heard some of Jaco’s music, either from his solo albums or his Weather
Report work. If you like what you’ve heard, I highly recommend this
release. It is arranged and produced with great skill and performed
with huge commitment. This obvious love and respect for Jaco’s music
extends to the superb artwork, photography and some of the best liner
notes I’ve ever read, written by Jaco’s biographer Bill Milkowski.
Smooth jazz it ain’t – great jazz it is.
Heads Up International – HUCD 3110 Producers – Peter Graves, Michael
J Hurzon, Executive Producer – Dave Love