The Legendary Live Tapes, 1978-1981
These four discs offer completely unreleased performances by the Weather Report lineup of keyboardist Joe Zawinul, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Jaco Pastorius, drummer Peter Erskine, and a bit later, percussionist Bobby Thomas, Jr. It was compiled for release by Erskine (whose historical essay and annotated track notes are fantastic) and Tony Zawinul, Joe's son. These are mostly soundboard cassettes made by WR's longtime live sound engineer Brian Risner, with choice audience tapes and commercial mobile rig selections mixed in. While it (mostly) sounds like an excellent bootleg, the sound here is remarkable given the root sources. Similar to 2002's Live and Unreleased, the material is not arranged chronologically. Disc one begins with the quintet in 1980/1981; disc four is from the quartet in 1978, and it skips around in between. The sequencing is peculiar to Erskine's and Zawinul's personal notions about what best constituted raw evidence of the band's collective ability on any given night of a tour -- warts and all. (An example is the inclusion of an abrupt, incomplete "Jaco's Solo" on disc one. It's here as a metaphor for the bassist's mercurial personality and the gap his absence leaves, but it's too much of a quirk for most listeners. (Thankfully, there is a full, more inspired version on disc four from 1978.) But the many highlights offset these moments. On disc one, "Brown Street" is taken from a rehearsal vastly overdubbed later for 8:30; the root version is revelatory. The scorching medley of "Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz" is fiery and intense -- tape collectors feel free to compare. Shorter's brief quote from "What's Goin' On" in "The Orphan" reveals how much R&B was part of his playing during this period, and his seven-plus-minute solo spot is magnificent. Disc two offers a gorgeous medley of Pastorius' "Continuum"/"River People" -- played in his hometown of Philly -- and is followed by a 21-minute, newly discovered "Gibraltar" from Erskine's second gig with WR. Disc three by the quintet is from 1980-1981 and contains excellent performances of "Madagascar," followed by a hard-grooving "Night Passage." (The latter tune was eventually dropped from public performance.) These tracks -- plus two more -- are from proper mobile recording equipment and as such they stand out. A spacy bebop reading of Duke Ellington's "Rockin' in Rhythm" precedes a ragged "Port of Entry" -- the only known version recorded by the quartet (just prior to Thomas' joining). The final disc offers long, kinetic versions of "Elegant People," "Scarlet Woman," and "Black Market," as well as a raucous "Teen Town" and a spacy, dubby version of "Directions." While The Legendary Live Tapes, 1978-81 is a glimpse of the complex, multifaceted -- and controversial -- persona that was WR, it is a long and fruitful one. It showcases the band at their jazz-funk best with improvisational and collective intuitive chops usually on stun. Hopefully there is more where this came from.