Live At Montreux 1976 Weather Report

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When Mile Davis recorded In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew in 1969 and 1970, respectively, he simultaneously created a new strain of jazz called fusion, combining elements of rock, funk, R&B, world, and even avant-garde. At the same time, Davis took a stable of considerable musicians under his wing — players who developed their compositional and improvisational skills to an entirely different level that resulted in a number of spin-off groups. We’re talking Tony Williams and his group The Tony Williams Lifetime, Herbie Hancock and The Headhunters, Chick Corea and Return To Forever, and John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Arguably, the most bedazzling and ground-breaking of all was Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, who formed Weather Report in 1971. Five years later, the group played the Montreux Jazz Festival to great acclaim. Considered one of their finest performances, a new DVD of Live At Montreux 1976 captures the five-piece ensemble at the peak of their powers.

Weather Report stammered through various incarnations during their tumultuous 15-year career, but when the band, who had never employed a proper guitarist, welcomed fretless bassist Jaco Pastorius into the fold, their fortunes soon changed. On the heels of 1976’s Black Market, they came out swinging in Montreux and never let up. Keyboardist Zawinal and saxophonist Shorter lead the way and weave the patterns, while Pastorius, drummer Alex Acuña, and percussionist Manola Badrena lay down a foundation a Leopard 2 tank would have a hard time violating. Indeed, the heavy percussive backbeat would expand the group’s breadth and set the tone for their follow-up, Heavy Traffic, one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time.

As master instrumentalists, each player grabs the spotlight for a dizzying array of extended solos. Zawinal masterfully takes command of the keys, beginning with the subtle opener “Elegant People,” before handing off the reins to Shorter, who shifts and shapes the melody on“Scarlet Woman.” Pastorius assumes stern control of ““Portrait Of Tracy,” then the group fluidly combines their muscle power on “Cannon Ball” and “Black Market.” Acuña and Badrena explode during a rock ‘em, sock ‘em duet, only to be regimentally followed by a tasteful duet between Zawinal and Shorter. Once the five settle into the austerity and richness of “Badla” and “Gibralter,” it’s simply too difficult to turn away. To see Weather Report — especially Pastorius whose ill-temper would lead him to a tragic and unfortunate demise — interlock and unleash such a powerful sound is a sober reminder of the possibilities of top-notch musicianship. It’s a damn shame the pop pundits of today fail to embrace this ideology to its full potential.

~ Shawn Perry


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