Forecast Calls for. . .
Weather Report started in 1970 as an experiment by refugees from the interstellar space explorations of Miles Davis circa In a Silent Way. At that time, jazz-rock fusion was open-ended, anarchy-seeking stuff, often built on displays of wild intensity. Within a few years, as keyboardist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter developed distinct compositional signatures, Weather Report made it something else—lurking, shadowy, multidimensional music propelled by agile Afro-Latin grooves.
By the time of Heavy Weather, the band's seventh studio album, the transformation was nearly total: The long solos that dominated Davis's records were gone, replaced by busy themes and stray adlibs scribbled in the margins. Melodies more overtly occupied center stage—in parts of "Teen Town" and the plaintive "A Remark You Made," the theme is delivered by Jaco Pastorius, the pioneer who showed the world how the fretless bass could sing.
The music of Heavy Weather is thoroughly scripted, yet feels totally free—cue up "Birdland," the album's "single," to experience one of the only homages to jazz history that doesn't look backward. Over a gum-snapping backbeat, Zawinul conjures the full textural richness of a big band using synthesizers. Pastorius, wound as tightly as a drum, rumbles in and out of the spotlight, inserting his bass as another lead voice, effortlessly linking the infectious swing to his own favorite groove music, Stax-Volt R&B. Shorter darts from foreground to background like he's in the middle of a Spy vs. Spy chase. And by the time the group slams into the shout chorus, you feel like you've been riding a hipster bullet train that started back in the Count Basie 1930s, and won't stop till it hits Tomorrowland.
Released: 1977, Columbia
Key Tracks: "Palladium," "Teen Town," "A Remark You Made," "Birdland."
Catalog Choice: Black Market; Mr. Gone; 8:30.
Next Stop: Jaco Pastorius: Word of Mouth
After That: Passport: Iguacu
Book Page: 849