Monday, November 13, 2006
I got into Weather Report in totally the reverse order. Growing up, my dad often played 'Heavy Weather', with the track 'Birdland' being a particular favourite. For those that don't know, this album was the band's commercial peak, and in sound is pretty typical of where jazz fusion was in 1977. Anyway, from these inauspicious beginnings, with an inkling that the earlier stuff was supposed to be better, I found my way to 'Mysterious Traveller' from 1974. This was more like it - dark and slippery with a real sense of funk. Now I could see that this was the band based around the same guys that made Miles' 'In A Silent Way' so special (Joe Zawinul wrote the original version of the title track). 'I Sing The Body Electric' is even earlier, 1972 to be exact. This is pretty much the original WR of Zawinul on keys, Wayne Shorter on saxes and Miroslav Vitous on bass. Word is that Vitous' influence gave the music a harder edge, and that is certainly true of the track I'd like to mention today. I haven't previously thought of WR being about anything other than complex, slowly developing tunes. Intensity is not a word that I've associated with their output - until now.
Side two of the album contains edited versions of a performance in Japan that was later released in full (in 1977) as 'Live In Tokyo'. First up is a medley of pieces - 'Vertical Invader', 'T.H.' and 'Dr. Honoris Causa'. What strikes you from the opening drum solo to the final, distorted electric piano notes is the incredible level of energy. The story goes that the band found the Japanese audiences on that particular tour to be such good listeners that they felt they could "...hit 'em hard, right from the first note" - and that's what happens. The intensity of the first section, 'Vertical Invader' is unsurpassed in their catalogue. Zawinul's rhodes is so heavily distorted that at first listen you would swear you'd just heard a guitar player start up. Only in the higher notes does it sound like an electric piano. It's not all fire and brimstone, though. The same section of track is also marked by some superb interplay between Zawinul and Shorter, both improvising with great inspiration. Zawinul plays especially well, using single lines in the most part, like a horn player. This approach also brings to mind a soloing guitarist, adding to the feeling that there's an uncredited guitar player in the band. Throughout the whole thing the rhythm section keep up a tight, fast and furiously funky groove, Vitous driving them forward with abandon. The overall effect is intoxicating and unsettling - stormy weather indeed.
It would be great to hear more, and of course you can by getting hold of a copy of 'Live In Tokyo', which I shall be doing very soon I think. If you have any interest at all in WR, please have a look at Weather Report: The Annotated Discography which is an example to all of us who have tried to put together artist-orientated websites.