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Jaco Legacy & Barbary Coast

From the fantastic tribute album Jaco Pastorius Big Band: Word of Mouth Revisited (2003).

I’ve acquired two Jaco tribute albums recently, and posted from the other one here. Both albums reveal the love of other musicians for Jaco and the extent to which he reshaped the bass and music itself. The tribute album represented in this post, Word of Mouth Revisited, revisits in particular a late stage of Jaco’s music in the early 80s, when he was writing, arranging, touring and recording with his big band Word of Mouth.

But this was also the period when Jaco was beginning his deep slide into the bi-polar disorder that would end in his death not too much later at the age of 35, in 1987. (Jaco more or less provoked a fight with a bouncer and got badly beaten up, the injuries resulting in a coma, then shortly thereafter death.)

I have a few of Jaco’s recordings with the original Word of Mouth band, the best known being Invitation (1983). What is notable about this tribute album is that it is actually better than Invitation, in my opinion. This is because Jaco, losing control of his mind, was also losing control of the music, at least in terms of leading a large ensemble. Though the original band definitely had the drive and energy of Jaco behind it, it also lacked tightness and tended to get muddy and even cacophonous. The re-united band in Word of Mouth Revisited is able to realize (and also reveal), what must have been Jaco’s vision for the arrangements and the band sound, more than Jaco himself could have done in the 80s. The playing is tighter, the tone clusters clearer and brighter, the changes crisper.

The album also has superb, informative liner notes, explaining all the cuts. And on the album the cuts are interspersed with recordings of Jaco’s comments, made during recording sessions or rehearsals with the original bands. This album is definitely a labor of love.

From the liner notes:

Jaco Pastorius’ ascendence in the 1970s was a singular phenomenon in the evolution of jazz, with an impact that continues to reverberate among his disciples more than a decade after his untimely passing.

Beginning with his solo debut, Jaco Pastorius, and through his work with Pat Metheny, Joni Mitchell, Weather Report, and subsequently his own Word of Mouth bands, Jaco single-handedly shattered the boundaries of the electric bass and redefined its potential across all idioms of music.

“Jaco Pastorius was, without question, the Charlie Parker of the electric bass,” says Christian McBride. “If you play the saxophone, you have to come through Charlie Parker at some point. If you play the electric bass, you have to go through Jaco. Nobody has ever innovated on the instrument like he did.”

But the question remains, who could possibly play bass on an album like this? Who could step into Jaco’s shoes? The answer is about ten masters of the bass from jazz and fusion (including McBride himself). All are deeply influenced by Jaco, and each plays a signature Jaco cut on the album, paying loving and reverential tribute to the man whose playing so informed their own. For this cut, “Barbary Coast,” the bassist is Gerald Veasley.

All of the bassists on this album display an uncanny ability to channel Jaco, but it doesn’t feel like imitation or mimicry. Their playing here shows that Jaco didn’t just have a “style” or a particular kind of virtuosity, but a musical language, which these bassists have thoroughly learned and internalized to the point that they can play it back. (By the way, they are not sycophants. In their other work, these bassists have their own styles.)

Jaco’s bassline changes more than just the bassline. Rather than holding the music down, the bass drives it forward and at the same times weaves in and out and around it. This has the effect of giving the other instruments a different texture. So, Jaco’s total vision comes out here, a new kind of arrangement, a new kind of band sound.

On woodwinds, Billy Ross, Ed Calle, Gary Keller, Mike Brignola. On brass, Jeff Kievett, Jason Gardner, Ken Faulk Dana Teboe, John Kricker. Michael Levine on keyboards, Randy Bergen on Guitar, and Mark Griffith on Drums. Peter Graves directs.

Enjoy! This can be acquired here, and is a worthy musical investment that will reward many re-listenings. Two thumbs up.

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4 responses to “Jaco Legacy & Barbary Coast

  1. This was, indeed, a wonderful album.

  2. Pingback: Jaco Revisited & Punk Jazz | What Do You Do for an Encore?

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