Sunday, 26 February 2012

A portrait of Tracy: Jaco - Jaco Pastorius (1976)

Jaco Pastorius has to rank as one of the most exciting and perhaps one of the most tragic recordings in the history of jazz let along music over the last fifty years. Every once in a while the world is blessed with musical prodigies, of which Pastorius was certainly one. Mention Pastorius to any bass player and you might as well be referring to a messianic character. Accomplished solo act and prolific session musician, Jaco played on a number of important albums during the 1970s (including Joni Mitchell's essential Hijera)and well as providing the iconic baselines to the most successful incarnation of jazz fusion giants Weather Report.

Let me quickly highlight that this album will not be for everyone, as fusion jazz at the best of times is a pretty niche area of music. If on the other hand you are interested in discovering the pure delights of 'good' fusion (as most of it is rubbish) and also some of the finest virtuoso playing in the history of modern music, then this is the best place to start. Unlike most jazz fusion, this collection is easily accessible and not jam-packed with esoteric noodlings (like most of the lauded but unlistenable ventures by the Mahavishnu Orchestra).

To be honest - from my point of view - there is not a duff track on the album, a rare feat for a jazz record, especially one made in the mid 1970's when it could be almost guaranteed that one impenetrable track would sneak its way onto an album. Like the album reviewed last week, one of the main reasons that this work is set apart from so many others like it is down to the quality of the musicians who appear on the record from the great Herbie Hancock to a cheeky guest appearance from an exuberant Sam & Dave. The track they guest on 'Come on, Come over' is pure 70's funk with an infectious baseline, jerking clavinet riffs and whining sax.

Other tunes are far more atmospheric, if not melancholy, the now jazz standard 'Continuum' is a great example of this - laden with pastorius's instructured riffs and haunting melodies  from Hancock's fender rhodes. What may at first sound slightly disheveled hits some of the most inspired arrangement of the decade, creating an infectious album where there is always something new to try.

However, what this collection of music really exhibits is an unrivalled talent - just listen to 'Portrait of Tracy' - who was just about to reach the top of his game before embarking on a sad descent into a pit of drugs and alcohol abuse only to be found dead in a gutter outside a club just over ten years later, robbing the world of his excellent abilities.

As I wrote above, this album is not for everyone, and as such I am going to give it an 8/10. I will say though, if you do like jazz, then it is an indispensable record for your collection!

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