The Word is Out! by Jaco Pastorius Big Band – reviewed by Chris Mann


When 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 doesn’t disappoint. 

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 through! 

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.

The 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