Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Weather Report 1976

Weather Report Live at Montreux 1976
Eagle Eye Media

This month Joe Zawinul is graces the cover of Downbeat on the occasion of his new CD revisiting classic Weather Report compositions. For some perspective on the new recordings versus the old, take a look at the classic version of Weather Report in Live at Montreux 1976.

The 1976 line-up of WR may well have been the strongest. Jaco Pastorius was still relatively new to the band, but on his way to becoming a cult hero. Though Wayne Shorter appeared to be marginalized in later incarnations of the band, his voice was still very prominent in the mix at this point.

Shorter’s tenor comes to the fore right off the bat in “Elegant People.” His fiery solo should answer any critic too quick to dismiss WR as light-weight pop-jazz. Buoyed by Pastorius, Zawinul, and percussionists Alex Acuña and Manolo Badrena, Shorter delivers another searching post-Coltrane solo on “Black Market,” this time on soprano, as well as briefly sharing keyboard duties with Zawinul.

As impressive as Shorter might be, for many Pastorius will be the center of attention. There are several showcases for his virtuosity, including his infectious groove on “Barbary Coast” and his solo prelude to “Portrait of Tracy.”

Although Zawinul’s voice does not dominate the band as it would it later years, he is undeniably a strong presence during the Montreux set. Despite solo space for Shorter on tenor and soprano, Zawinul’s keyboards dominate “Cannon Ball,” his tribute to his former boss, the elder Adderley brother.

Indeed, this is the Weather Report of choice for many because there are three strong and distinct musical personalities, ably supported by Acuña and Badrena (who get their own percussion duet). This was a group playing together at a very high energy level. Throughout the set, one can see the sweat glistening of Shorter’s face. By the time they play the final notes of the last workout, “Gibraltar,” featuring another blistering soprano solo from Shorter, one can see Acuña take a deep breath, as in “whew.”

Later WR albums would be later albums. If there was ever a time to see them live, it was 1976-1977, so it is great to have a restored, non-bootleg version of their Montreux set available.