PUNK JAZZ: The Jaco Pastorius Anthology (Warner Bros. / Rhino)
The self-proclaimed “world’s greatest bass player” would have turned 53 this coming December 1st if his brilliant flame hadn’t been prematurely extinguished in a South Florida barroom altercation over seventeen years ago. Thus ended a tragic, suicidal slide that to this day tends to cloud the brilliant and prolific career of a man who, single-handedly (or, two-handedly in this case) revolutionized the way we hear and think about Leo Fender’s four-stringed invention, the electric bass guitar. Rhino, relying heavily on Warner catalog, has attempted to give us a glimpse of what was, and remains, the music of John Francis Pastorius III.
This 2 CD set contains not a few surprises. The opening cut is nothing less than a home demo recording of the then seventeen-year-old Jaco playing bass, drums, guitar and sax on Pee Wee Ellis’ “The Chicken”, a tune which would later become a sort of signature piece for him. The basic seeds of the sound and style that would later bring him international acclaim are already present, as they are in his composition “Amelia”, performed here live just four years later during Jaco’s stint in Wayne Cochran’s C. C. (Chitlin Circuit) Riders. This gig was, according to fellow bassist and Floridian Bob Bobbing (quoted in Bill Milkowski’s The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius), “the oven for Jaco’s genius.” Surprising, also, is "Nativity", a free-wheeling, cosmic jam from percussionist Airto’s 1977 outing, I’m Fine, How Are You? Who remembers keyboardist/film composer Michel Colombier’s eponymous Chrysalis LP from 1979, and why hasn’t it ever been reissued? Two gems, Colombier’s own “Sunday” and “Layas” are included here, albeit with scant production credits: that’s Michael Brecker in blistering, altissimo form playing the tenor sax solo on “Layas” supported by what must surely be an all-star horn section that also goes unacknowledged (this writer would swear that the drummer on the bassist’s raucous "Word of Mouth" is Jaco himself, not Peter Erskine as stated in the booklet).
If one had to select two representative cuts from among the numerous collaborations between Jaco and Joni Mitchell, two Charlie Mingus tunes would probably not be the best choice. “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines” certainly belongs here for the sheer jazz carnage of Brecker vs. Pastorius via B-flat blues, but almost any Joni Mitchell song (“Hejira” or “God Must Be a Boogie Man” come to mind, to name just two) would have been a better choice than “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” and a welcome contrast here. The producers could have also been a bit more discriminating when they chose “Birdland”, surprisingly the disc’s only Weather Report cut (Pastorius recorded six albums and toured the world as the band’s bassist from 1976 to 1982). Sure, we all flipped back in ’77 with Jaco’s pioneering use of false harmonics on Joe Zawinul’s catchy melody (“what’s that?”), but “Havona” from the same, brilliant Heavy Weather album would be a much better choice, as much for the sublime Jaco composition as for what is arguably one of his best recorded solos. The big band version of "Punk Jazz" (first heard on The Birthday Concert) is joyous when compared to Weather Report’s reading on Mr. Gone, although one can’t help but think back to Jaco’s frantic opening duet with drummer Tony Williams on the studio version.
With Jaco the Syncopated Groove Meister, Jaco the Big Band Leader and Arranger, Jaco the Free Improviser (see “Foreign Fun” with Albert Mangelsdorff and Alphonse Mouzon or “Batterie” with Pat Metheny, Bruce Ditmas and Paul Bley) all represented, only Jaco the Balladeer is absent and he’s sorely missed: the studio version of Weather Report’s “A Remark You Made”, Joni Mitchell’s “Refuge of the Roads” or Colombier’s “Dreamland” would have been strong candidates to fill an unfortunate void in this collection.
Warner / Rhino have seen fit to include a glimpse of Holiday for Pans, what would have been Jaco’s fourth Warner album before the plug was pulled. “Good Morning, Anya” was chosen to represent this ill-fated, oft-bootlegged, non-release because presumably the quirky, all steel pans arrangements of David Rose’s “Holiday for Strings” or Lennon and McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home” are still way too risky and esoteric for the majors. In this way, Jaco’s concept album is rejected yet again. The Word of Mouth Big Band interpretation of “Okonkole’ y Trompa” is a welcome curiosity, previously available exclusively on the Japanese import Twins, a sort of extended play version of the 1983 Warner release Invitation.
Ricky Schultz, who was Jaco’s A&R man at Warner Bros., contributes enlightening liner notes and is credited as co-producer of Punk Jazz. Still smarting over Jaco’s insistence in choosing the aurally challenging “Crisis” to open his ambitious Word of Mouth LP, he vindicates himself here by including every other tune from the album except -you guessed it- “Crisis”. Pastorius biographer Milkowski offers us a concise review of Pastorius’ career as well as his own insight on the bassist’s eclectic style and the importance of his musical contributions. The booklet offers many photographs, some seldom seen (shame no one noticed that Manolo Badrena is incorrectly identified as Peter Erskine in the Weather Report shot). All in all, the fact that all of this music is available in one cool package is a good thing and the task of choosing what to include or exclude had to be a difficult one, but that’s precisely what is under scrutiny here. Pity that Warner didn’t see there way clear to follow through with something that Schultz himself proposed years ago-a box set of all the material that Jaco recorded for Warner Bros., i.e. Word of Mouth, Invitation/Twins, The Birthday Concert, Holiday for Pans and whatever alternate takes that may survive in the vaults. That would have made one handsome box, indeed.
Trumpeter Chris Kase is a critically renowned jazz musician and musical scholar who lives in Madrid, Spain. Visit his website at www.chriskase.com
FYI to all nepotism watchdog groups: Yes, the editor of Night Times is Chris Kase's kid brother!--Ed.