Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Weather Report - Weather Report 1971 (1992)

Format: flac + cue + log
Genre: Jazz,Fusion
Original Release Date: 1971
Label: Columbia Legacy

by Richard S. Ginell Here we have the free-floating, abstract beginnings of Weather Report, which would define the state of the electronic jazz/rock art from its first note almost to its last. Their first album is a direct extension of the Miles Davis In a Silent Way/Bitches Brew period, more fluid in sound and more volatile in interplay. Joe Zawinul ruminates in a delicate, liquid manner on Rhodes electric piano; at this early stage, he used a ring modulator to create weird synthesizer-like effects. Wayne Shorter's soprano sax shines like a beacon amidst the swirling ensemble work of co-founding bassist Miroslav Vitous, percussionist Airto Moreira, and drummer Alphonse Mouzon. Zawinul's most memorable theme is "Orange Lady" (previously recorded, though uncredited, by Davis on Big Fun), while Shorter scores on "Tears" and "Eurydice." One of the most impressive debuts of all time by a jazz group.

"After nine years with Cannonball Adderley, pianist-composer Joe Zawinul is ready to go out on his own." So read the opening sentence of the lead news item in the December 10, 1970 issue of Down Beat magazine. It was the first that most jazz fans learned that Zawinul, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and bassist Miroslav Vitous were forming a new band that included 22-year old drummer Alphonse Mouzon.
By that time, both Shorter and Zawinul had established themselves as influential jazz musicians and composers. Zawinul was coming off a nine-year stint with Adderley, and Shorter had recently left Miles Davis. Though they had rarely played together, the two had known each other since 1959, when they were briefly members of Maynard Ferguson's band. Zawinul picks up the story in a 1984 Keyboard magazine interview:
"When I first met Wayne Shorter in '59," he recalled, "I had only been in the United States for a week or so. After I joined Maynard Ferguson's band, we needed a tenor player. 'Slide' Hampton, the trombonist, and I auditioned three tenor players in one afternoon: George Coleman, Eddie Harris, and Wayne Shorter. For this particular audition, Maynard trusted us to make the right decision, and we picked Wayne. He was only in the band for about a month and when he left [to join Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers], we didn't play together for many years, until we did In A Silent Way in 1969 with Miles Davis. After Bitches Brew [recorded in August 1969 and released in April of 1970], Wayne, Miroslav Vitous, and I decided to make a band. We didn't know anything about each other as far as playing was concerned. When Wayne was on the road with Art Blakey, I was on the road with Cannonball Adderley. In those days we hardly ever listened to records; we just tried to survive."
While he was still with Cannonball, Zawinul had a chance to listen to Miles' album, Nefertiti. "During the 1960s Wayne and I hung out sometimes, had a few drinks and talked about music, but early on we never discussed having our own band. Years later I was in the basement of Bill Russell's house--the basketball player--and he had a great stereo set-up. I had the earphones on and was listening to Nefertiti [Miles Davis' 1967 album on which Shorter contributed three compositions]. It was something like what I had been doing before, structurally--away from all that eight bars shit and then you go to the bridge. The music flowed. That was a real spark." [DB78b] Zawinul felt it was only a matter of time before he and Wayne got together. "From then on, I knew it, because there were certain things I heard, certain concepts which were very, I wouldn't say similar, but complementary." [DB75a] "That's when I felt Wayne was the guy I should do something with. He had the new thinking."
They began talking about forming a band during the In A Silent Way recording sessions, which took place in February 1969. "During the recording of In A Silent Way, Wayne--who already left Miles [actually his last gig with Miles was in March 1970]--was there and Wayne and me said, 'Let’s start a band.' He wanted to make a band together with Chick Corea, Roy Haynes but somehow this didn’t happen. Wayne said, 'Listen, I’m tired of telling people how to play and how this and that goes, let’s have a band.' I agreed." [MDR] And shortly before Davis' death in 1991, Zawinul said, "At the session of In A Silent Way, Wayne and me decided to have a band and that's where Weather Report came from."
Zawinul and Shorter again played together for Davis' Bitches Brew sessions, which took place in August 1969. Shortly thereafter, Joe recorded his third album as a leader, the self-titled Zawinul. [IASW, p. 124] One of the participants was Vitous, whom Joe had met in 1966 when the then-19 year old bass player won the Friedrich Gulda International Competition for which Zawinul was a judge. That led to Vitous coming to the United States on a scholarship at the Berklee School Of Music (the same way Zawinul came to the US), and he quickly found himself in demand by various jazz artists, including Herbie Mann, Chick Corea and Miles Davis.
Meanwhile, Zawinul and Shorter recorded solo albums in 1969 and 1970 that are now looked upon as the seeds of ideas that germinated in Weather Report, as Michael Zipkin wrote in the October 20, 1978 issue of BAM magazine:
In late summer 1969, just following the Bitches Brew sessions, Shorter recorded Supernova , a passionate, atmospheric album of sketches full of jungle-like percusson with polyrhythmic and tonal freedom. Even more prophetic was Wayne's Odyssey of Oska , recorded a year later [on the same day, August 26, 1970, as Moto Grosso Feio ], which was a highly visual series of tone poems tracking "the journey of your own soul" through the metaphorical signposts of "Wind," "Storm," "Calm," and "Joy." Significantly, percussionist Airto Moreira and the young Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous were on Supernova, and drummer Al Mouzon shared responsibilities with Billy Hart on Iska. There first three players would appear with Shorter and Zawinul on Weather Report's first album in the spring of 1971.
Meanwhile, Zawinul was putting together his own prototypical canvas of impressionism on the Zawinul album. This, too, was an album of tone sketches: evocative personal images of Josef's "grandfather's funeral on a cold winter day in an Austrian mountain village" ("His Last Journey"); his "first impressions of New York when he arrived here as a boy on a ship from France" ("Arrival in New York"); and "impressions of Zawinul's days as a shepherd boy in Austria" ("In A Silent Way").
Vitous played on the record, and Shorter contributed one tune. With Herbie Hancock, Zawinul used a Rhodes piano, and with the aid of an echoplex and ring modulator, elicited hitherto unknown layers of sound that paved the way for future explorations with Weather Report.
Shorter continued to play in Davis' live band until early March 1970, when Miles began working with a small, guitar-based group. [MB, p. 73, 114] At that point, Shorter took a break from music. "I didn't play much for a whole year. I made two albums, Super Nova and Odyssey of Iska . So I took that year to just take a look at the world and myself I went to the islands a lot, the Caribbean Islands, St. Thomas. And just let 11 years of playing steady, let it sink in. In conclusion, I didn't want to do it in the same way. Where in five years time you look much older than your time, just into one club and out of the other, on the band-bus routine. I thought to myself, how many other musicians, or painters or writers, with hardly any sustaining money, have a chance to take a whole year and just take a look at themselves. I didn't want to play. I just looked at the horn every once in awhile. Then I started playing a lot of other things, not jazz, but stuff from Ima Sumac, music from Peru, a lot of Latin stuff."
Zawinul's last studio session with Miles took place in February 1970. [MB, p. 315] Later that summer Miles attempted to recruit Zawinul for his live band. "I was out here in L.A. at Shelley's [a defunct jazz club]," Zawinul recalled in 1973, "when Miles called me one morning and said that Miroslav had joined his band and it would be nice if I joined too." [RS73] Zawinul elaborated in another interview: "Miles called me in September of 1970 and told me Miroslav Vitous was joining him. I'd already decided to leave Cannonball, so I told Miles I'd join too. I went to Seattle, where Miles was playing, and Miroslav wasn't there--so I went back to New York and it never happened."
In fact, Chick Corea and Dave Holland left Davis' band at the end of August 1970, creating the need for new keyboard and bass players. And according to Paul Tingen's excellent book Miles Beyond, Vitous did play a few concerts with Miles in September, but apparently not in Seattle when Zawinul showed up. [MB] "As it happened," Zawinul said, "Miroslav and Miles couldn't get together anyway and then all of a sudden we were in New York calling each other one afternoon. My album [the self-titled Zawinul ] had just come out and Miroslav suggested that he and I get together. He called Wayne and Wayne called me, we had a meeting and suddenly said, 'Shit, let's have a band,' you know?"
"Wayne hadn't been working for a year," recalled Zawinul. "At the time he was writing a piece for a 22-piece orchestra. And I had tons of music and it was just time. And when it's time to quit certain things, it's time to quit. Miroslav had made a very nice album for Atlantic. I knew Miroslav for quite a while; I judged this contest in Europe where he came in a winner. We had similar backgrounds culturally. It was very easy to get into his music and understand it, so it fell together in one afternoon."
With that, Weather Report was formed. The three men went into a recording studio to get a feel for what the band might be like. "We never talked about a concept," Zawinul said. "We went down into the studio the first time--Billy Cobham [Alphonse Mouzon was unavailable], Wayne, Miroslav and myself--and made a tape. I still haven't listened to it. Immediately we knew that that was gonna be it." "That was really an experience," he continued. "We decided that we were going to need some fantastic management, because the quality of the music was very high, so we got Sid Bernstein (who as everyone knows, brought the Beatles to the U.S.). Then, I was supposed to do some independent producing at Columbia, and when they heard we had a band, the machine started rolling."
"Then we needed a drummer, and Al [Mouzon] was the first choice, and when he started working with us in rehearsal it was really fantastic--he sings and all that. And then Airto--we'd tried another percussionist but he didn't have that individualism, and that's what we really are aiming for--individuals all, but playing together. So we called Airto and he fit right in." [DB71] In perhaps a bit of revisionist history, Zawinul told Melody Maker in 1972 that Eric Gravatt was the first choice along, but he was unavailable because he was with McCoy Tyner. [MM72] Ironically, Mouzon would replace Gravatt in Tyner's band when Gravatt joined Weather Report in 1971. In any event, Mouzon was well known to both Zawinul and Shorter, having played on Shorter's Odyssey of Iska, and worked with Zawinul on Tim Hardin's Bird On A Wire date.
"After we signed the contract with Columbia," Zawinul continued, "I went to Europe with my family, on December 10, 1970. We hung out in London, then Vienna, and then Barcelona. After we got back to New York, the band rehearsed a month, then went into the studio and cut the record in three days, in March of 1971. It was getting acquainted time. I had only played with Miroslav and Wayne a little." [DB78b] "We rehearsed three weeks--or rather, we took a month and rehearsed four days a week--and then went into the studio and did the record in three days. Rehearsing was quite something--every day when we got home we'd be exhausted, there was so much music going on."
How did the name Weather Report come about? "When we first got together with CBS," Shorter told Jazz Forum magazine in 1976, "we had a meeting with Clive Davis, and we just mapped out what we were going to do. The only thing he asked was, 'How could we give some name to this music in order to sell it, where are we going to put it in the record stores, are we going to put it in the classical thing?' So we just concluded that we should get something so unique that it would be without categorization. We would just put it in the Weather Report rack! What kind of music is it? I don't know."
"We thought The Wayne Shorter-Joe Zawinul Quintet [a percussionist was added] sounded ridiculous," recalls Zawinul, "so we were in my apartment in New York--Miroslav, Wayne and I--trying to find a name which would say something, especially what people had in their minds all the time. So we were thinking about Daily News, but that didn't sound good. Thousands of names--Audience, Triumvirate, all kinds. Suddenly, Wayne popped out Weather Report, and we all said, 'That's it!'"
Shorter gave his version of that story in 1976: "We were sitting together one evening, talking, and trying to figure out what we would call the band. We didn't want just an ordinary name, but something that would hit everybody. So I said what does everybody do at 6 o'clock every evening? They watch the news. And what do they want to hear? The weather! So I said, 'How about Weather Report?' And that was how it got started."

CBS Records ad for Weather ReportThough the album credits only Airto on percussion, Brian Glasser, in his excellent Zawinul biography In A Silent Way, describes the participation of two other percussionists prior to Airto's involvement: Don Alias, a well-known session player who subsequently toured and recorded with Jaco Pastorius; and Barbara Burton, a New York symphonic and freelance percussionist recruited by Shorter. According to Glasser, Alias "walked out before the record was completed after an argument with Zawinul about what he should be playing." Burton told Glasser that she and Alias did the whole album, and it wasn't until the last session, "when all the tracks had been laid [down] at Columbia Studios" that Airto became involved. Apparently Zawinul thought something was missing, or he was in some way unsatisfied, because Burton overheard Joe asking Airto if there was anything he could add. Airto said, "Man, that album is finished. There's nothing I can add." Nevertheless, Zawinul persisted and Airto recorded for the album. [IASW, p.133-135] Zawinul subsequently asked Airto to tour with the band, but he was already committed to Miles Davis (though he did perform once with Weather Report at a private affair for Columbia Records). Burton performed at Weather Report's first gig, a week-long stint at Paul's Mall in Boston before the album was released. Burton told Glasser that when she refused to commit to a tour without certain financial assurances, "Joe got mad at me and took my name, along with Don's, off the album." (Airto later recommended Dom Um Romao, who went on tour with the band following the release of Weather Report, and stayed on through Mysterious Traveller.)
It is an understatement to say that Weather Report's first album created a stir. The May 27, 1971 issue of Down Beat devoted an amazing two-plus pages to the album's review--before the album was even released--including a track-by-track description by the band members themselves. The reviewer, Dan Morgenstern, accorded the album Down Beat's highest rating of five stars, and opened his review by saying, "An extraordinary new group merits an extraordinary review of its debut album." Pat Metheny recalled to Glasser the anticipation he had as a 16-year old: "When the first Weather Report record came out, it was just... wow! I was probably at the store the day it arrived, because we'd all been reading about it in Down Beat and things like that."

No comments: