It’s come to my attention that iTunes customers are not being provided with a PDF of the terrific booklet that comes inside the excellent packaging of the 4-CD “Legendary Live Tapes” box set. As a public service (!), here are the liner notes:
WEATHER REPORT — THE LEGENDARY LIVE TAPES
Notes by Peter Erskine
Weather Report was often referred to as a fusion band. “We don’t fuse nuthin’,” Joe Zawinul declared. “We just play from the heart.”
But the band did take advantage of the latest and greatest electronic innovations technology had to offer, meanwhile balancing such efforts with purposefully “old-fashioned” musical choices. Zawinul sported the latest Prophet synthesizer, playing music appropriate for outer space, but spent much of his concert solo spot on the acoustic piano paying tribute to Gershwin and Ellington (with an occasional nod to Strauss).
Wayne’s enigmatic soprano playing set the bar for modernity in his use of space, yet his solo spot often featured him playing the old chestnut “Thanks for the Memory” on his tenor sax.
Jaco managed, somehow, to combine futuristic funk with television theme songs from the 1960s. His Fender bass was a classic, but he often channeled it into a digital delay so he could accompany himself while he played and danced. Jaco was a supreme musician but he was also a terrific showman.
So…new and old, acoustic plus electric, serious yet funny…Weather Report DID combine many elements, but I’d venture that it was more of a paradox band than a fusion band.
The technology of music has undergone dramatic change since the pioneering days of Weather Report’s use of the ring modulator and electric piano. Sonic variety, tonal palettes, innovative combinations of instruments and the discovery of new textures were integral parts of Weather Report’s creative mandate. Everything was possible and all possibilities were explored to further the telling of the story that was contained inside of each song.
The recording studio was one of the laboratories where Joe Zawinul concocted his musical magic along with whatever cohorts were in the band at the time. Weather Report was well known for its revolving door cast of drummers and other rhythm section players. The process went like this: Joe would improvise tunes on his keyboards at home, and then painstakingly transcribe what he had played onto paper, and then bring that into the studio (or bring the band into his living room to rehearse and give birth to this new music). Joe wanted creative input from the band but his music was through-composed and he liked it played as he had played it. Whereas Wayne put it all down on paper first, and would present a multi-page score to the band that would wind up being edited by consensus, concentrating on one or two particular musical gems and repeating those sections, creating a song. Jaco wrote on his bass and on any piano he could find, it seemed.
So, the music on most of the albums was created and played in a relatively short amount of time as far as tracking went. The real magic would occur during the mixing, editing and overdubbing of the music. The performance of most Weather Report songs recorded in the studio are triumphs of playing skill combined with ingenious editing choices and outrageous overdubbing ideas. The process took time, and it resulted in some really incredible musical moments. Even the band’s “live” opus/double-album 8:30 benefitted from this approach.
Not so this collection of music. Spanning the years 1978 – 1981, the performances on these 2 CD sets are completely, totally, unapologetically and insanely live.
For all of the technology the band might have had (or didn’t), Weather Report did not enjoy the wonders of portable digital recording technology when it toured. How wonderful it would have been to have had every concert recorded digitally, a commonplace occurrence today should a band wish to document its work. But we did have some high-quality cassette recorders on hand. By “we” I mean myself and Weather Report’s front-of-house mixing engineer (and person who enjoyed the longest association in the band outside of Joe & Wayne), Brian Risner. Sometimes Brian recorded concerts onto my Sony cassette machine at my request, sometimes he recorded onto his own. These occasions were the exception and not the rule; precious few recordings exist of the band playing “live,” and most of those seem to be in the hands of tape traders and collectors. But not all of them. These unique board tapes provide a glimpse into the musical minds and every-day working and creative energies that Weather Report poured into its music.
What’s remarkable about the bulk of these songs is how good they sound. As much as this collection is about the way Weather Report played on tour, this collection is also about the dedication that Brian Risner had for the band and for the music. If Weather Report played from the heart, then Brian used all of his heart and soul and expertise to transmit and convey that message to audience after audience. Luckily, there exists some audio documentation that allows listeners today to experience the magic that was Weather Report in concert. Kudos and thanks to Brian Risner and mastering engineer Rich Breen for their dedicated and thorough work to make the best of these cassette recordings. Thanks to Anthony Zawinul of Zawinul Enterprises LLC for supervising this release. Thanks also to Stanford University and their tape archive library for making the bulk of the analog-to-digital transfers, and to the team at Fuzzy Music for creating the huge database cataloging all of the performances from which these sets are comprised. Significant others’ contributions are acknowledged elsewhere in these notes.
These cassette tapes of the band have long been surreptitious listening favorites of mine, guilty pleasures shared with few until now. The significance of this collection should not be understated. These tracks from the years1978-to-1981 capture Weather Report at some key junctures in its existence, with some fascinating musical glimpses where the band was stretching its creative musical mind but not its muscle. Still, there are plenty of power moments that convey Weather Report at its furious best and/or impotent worst (thinking of the endless one-chord vamps that surprisingly became much a part of the band’s on-stage lore). The gold outweighs the rock(s), in any event.
Herein a tune-by-tune discussion…
A typical show lasted two hours or more, always performed without intermission. Depending on audience and ticket demands, a second show might be added to a concert itinerary’s day. We worked and played hard. That said, the complete or accurate running order of a typical WR concert is not being presented here, as this collection aims more to document the band’s creative concert forays as captured on various nights versus a concert experience per se.
Disc One begins with 8:30, a song originally created in Devonshire Studios in 1979 when the recording engineer wasn’t looking. The studio version was recorded largely on a cassette recorder that happened to be running. The radio excerpts at the very beginning were captured later by Jaco who recorded his dial-turning of a ham radio operator’s set, and that album beginning was used in concert for the 1980 tours the band did, with Jaco playing the drums in duet with Joe at the very top of the show, and then my switching places with him at the kit whereupon we would segue into Sightseeing. This always created some confusion in the audience (that the band welcomed … “Who’s that drummer? And where’s Jaco?”). This recording comes from a concert that WR played in Osaka’s Festival Hall during its summer 1980 tour. We always loved playing in Festival Hall for the Osaka audience.
As in concert, the compilation CD segues from 8:30 to Wayne Shorter’s Sightseeing, a tune first played in Joe Zawinul’s house where the band often rehearsed between recording sessions and tours. As I remember, Wayne had no particular tempo or rhythmic “feel” in mind when we first started playing it. In fact, the melody was part of a much larger/longer score that he had created, a maze of notes the band slowly worked its way through until Joe and/or Jaco suggested that we concentrate on 2 of the many pages, and the up-tempo swing treatment was the result. It’s an exciting, brilliant tune, played with much more energy here than on the original studio recording — typical for touring bands, which Weather Report certainly was. Festival Hall in Osaka again provides the venue for this June 1980 recording.
Brown Street normally appeared in concert following the bass solo performed by Jaco, as the piece was created and recorded without Jaco’s bass. Joe’s left hand on the keyboards provides the bass lines heard in the tune. In any event, here it is: third song of this CD set. While Brown Street is typical of the longer/through-composed song forms that Zawinul came to favor more and more in his career, the tune still offered plenty of improvisational room for Joe, Wayne, Bobby Thomas, Jr. and myself. The tune was improvised in Joe’s home during an evening rehearsal and recorded on Joe’s Nakamichi cassette deck, later transferred to 2” multi-track tape for overdubbing. Captured on cassette again but without the benefit of overdubs or edits, here is Brown Street “live.”
We complete the 8:30 album studio side salute (Side 4 of the LP release) with a Zawinul composition masterpiece, The Orphan. This performance was pulled from an unmarked cassette tape in my collection, and I do not know where it was recorded. While the song would often function as a bridge to an up-tempo jam in concert, that route is forsaken here to highlight another slow tune, this from the Night Passage album repertoire: Forlorn.
Forlorn is a blues of sorts, but it’s not. A simple elegy whose melody seems to be in a different key from its accompanying chords for much of the time. A bitonal ballad with some surreal percussive jabs and ascending sirens from the keyboards. Joe was always very proud of the tune. It normally functioned as the intro to the Duke Ellington tune Rockin’ in Rhythm that Weather Report covered.
Jaco’s Three Views of a Secret receives a rousing reading by the two founders and leaders of the band. It appears in segue as a tonal afterthought to the fadeout we perform on Forlorn for the purpose of this collection. There’s plenty of harmonic sophistication and chance-taking evident on this version of Three Views, but also evidence of the vagaries of board tape-recording where the balances in the house are often determined by the relative volumes of the instruments on-stage…what didn’t require excessive volume in the PA mix would have been heard with no trouble thanks to the hall acoustics and/or the excessive volume of a particular instrument or player on- stage. In any event: despite the volume of Zawinul’s keyboard solo being relatively soft in the mix, it’s a terrific version of the tune.
We jump to Badia, a Zawinul composition that almost always appeared at the very end of a WR concert as an encore, it’s entertaining as well as instructive to hear it in a different context. This version begins with my playing on some Almglocken (tuned cowbells, otherwise known as Alpine Bells). I had several of them and would set them up differently each night so that I might never get into any repeated note patterns during my solo segment or the intro to Badia. Bobby Thomas, Jr. keeps the introductory pulse going on hand drums. Eventually Jaco takes over with his signature double-time bass line. The challenge in doing this and some of the other extended WR jams was to keep the energy level up while maintaining some sense of openness. That’s one of the reasons I like this version of Badia so much, the performance has dynamic finesse to it. Badia was always performed as a two-song medley with Zawinul’s Boogie Woogie Waltz being the other melody or second tune. Jaco makes some interesting harmonic choices here.
The tape recording of the train whistle normally announced the very end of a WR concert, but we continue with a remarkable Wayne Shorter solo recorded by an audience member in Rochester, New York during that quintet’s final tour (just before we entered a recording studio in New York to make the final album with me and Bobby Thomas, Jr. and Jaco titled Weather Report). Wayne’s solo should be transcribed and become part of the required literature for classical instruments. As soon as Zawinul enters in accompaniment with his odd stringed-instrument that the band called the “chicken neck,” the track takes on a folk tune quality, and we fade out on that thought.
And segue into a Jaco bass solo. As Jaco normally did, he quotes from Hendrix and the Beatles. Added bonus is a terrific version of his playing atop an old LP recording of a Hovhaness symphony (“Mysterious Mountain”), whereupon Jaco goes right into some funk. His music (just like his mood swings later in life) could be all over the map. He also quotes from River People as well as Portrait of Tracy. This never-before-heard solo (no internet traders!) comes from a cassette of mine recorded in Osaka in 1980. It ends too abruptly, much like his presence in all our musical lives…that’s the way it went. And thus ends the side…
Disc Two takes us back to 1978 when Weather Report toured as a quartet. The music is, again, presented out of concert sequence. But what better way to start than with a masterful Joe Zawinul homage to Duke Ellington (along with George Gershwin and Richard Strauss, et al), Duke’s Come Sunday providing the perfect setting for Joe’s solo piano and then electric piano and synthesize accompaniment to Wayne Shorter’s saxophone. It is a profoundly moving performance. (Is that an alto sax? Wayne toured with one in Japan that year.) That’s definitely a tenor sax we hear on Sophisticated Lady. And Joe quotes, here and there from Porgy & Bess, sprinkles of Gershwin but not enough to title…)
The duet appeared in this particular performance in Tokyo (June 28, 1978) just before Birdland, which is heard here in relative concert order. This Birdland is noteworthy in that were still playing it “like the record,” that is, without the swing feel that would later become de riguer for our band’s performance of the tune (even though we hint at where the tune will go during the Ellington-ish chromatic descending line…). Dig the harmonic chance-taking that’s going on between Joe and Jaco. The energy of this performance is palpable, and the relative brevity of the vamp is welcome.
Drum Solo, where I’m trying to play like Elvin plus Gravatt with elements of Cobham and “Pretty” Purdie and legit (classical) percussion ensemble music all the while filling up the solo slot and trying to be exciting. In other words: a typical drum solo! The added presence of the timpani makes all of this a bit more interesting than it might otherwise have been. All of that said, I’ll admit to being pleased enough hearing it now…
A Remark You Made comes courtesy of a tape trader who now lives in Bangkok, Thailand…thank you, Dr. Jens Niedzielski. The song is beautiful, Jaco’s tone on the fretless at this stage of his career is even more beautiful, and it’s simply one of my favorite versions of the tune. The perfume and aura of Heavy Weather is very present, while the sense of something new is quite clear. I can tell that the band was enjoying the pared-down instrumentation of the quartet and the “jazz” implications that held for the group…
Next up is a remarkable find, again courtesy of the good doctor in Thailand: a 1978 concert in Philadelphia — Jaco’s home town — where we played Jaco’s composition Continuum in tandem with River People, a rare musical treat (I didn’t even remember that we had done this until the tape crossed my hands) — dig Joe’s chordal accompaniment and Wayne’s comments, then the chordal segue to River People. This recording was made in the audience and clearly demonstrates how good the band sounded in concert. This River People is brighter in tempo than the version that originally appears on the Mr. Gone album, yet more relaxed than other bootleg or board tape versions I’ve heard made from that same autumn 1978 tour of the USA, hence its inclusion here. Of particular note are Joe’s solo lines interacting with Jaco’s bass lines (and vice-versa), plus Joe’s gospel organ-like chords. Joe often talked about hearing gospel music, particularly at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Something about this particular performance reminds me of Joe’s playing when he was with Cannonball Adderly, while still pointing the way forward to the music he would be playing with his own Zawinul Syndicate a decade or two later. It’s got more of a soul review feel than most of the other jams I’ve heard or recall of the band.
All of which leads us to a real piece de resistance of the collection: Gibraltar. This performance comes from a newly-discovered board tape that was made by FOH engineer Brian Risner. Osaka, June 23, 1978…my second performance with the band.
At 21 minutes +plus, this qualifies as epic. As I recall, the band only played Gibraltar with me during this first tour of Japan and Australia. We then moved onto playing music from the Mr. Gone album. So, this is a rare find (the only version heard by tape-traders or internet searchers is from a Tokyo concert made later that same tour recorded by NHK and broadcast by FM Tokyo — and this is a better performance). I remember playing as if my life depended on it. Also noteworthy for the synth sound palette that Joe calls upon…this would change with subsequent touring, an end to an era of sorts.
Disc 3 begins with music from the Night Passage band and album. Another unheard-until-now recording, this particular version of Fast City comes from the 1980 tour of Japan…the tune is up-tempo but not as fast as we would eventually wind up playing it. In fact, this recording was made just a couple of weeks prior to the “live” version in the studio we would record for Night Passage (in front of an invited audience at The Complex studio in West L.A.). Of particular interest is Zawinul’s melodic modality — just what ARE those notes? The band seems to be harkening back to some of its earlier days, inspired perhaps by being in Japan and Joe’s talking about what he regarded as Weather Report’s best ever concert, played in Sapporo by the band with Eric Gravatt, Miroslav Vitous and Dom Um Romao. That was indeed a great band, and Joe often mentioned that particular gig.
The next four tunes were recorded later in 1980 during a tour of Europe, several months after the Night Passage recording but before the album had the opportunity to hit the streets, the venue being one of our favorite places to play, The Hammersmith Odeon in London, England. Madagascar is a Joe Zawinul composition (the version on Night Passage actually came from a live performance recorded in Japan on a 1/4” tape reel-to-reel tape recorder by Brian Risner …one of the few shows that the band or CBS funded having a proper recording machine on hand to capture the band in concert…I don’t know what happened to other songs from that concert). This is a particularly energetic and inventive rendering. We enjoyed Hammersmith as much as we enjoyed Festival Hall in Osaka. I enjoy Wayne’s Miles Smiles quotes.
Next, a rarity: a “live” version of Night Passage itself, a song we abandoned after a while for some reason. Maybe because I play such a similar beat to the one that rounds out the Madagascar jam (four-on-the-floor bass drum beat with swing rhythm, anchored by a half-time backbeat). There’s an appealing earnestness to this rendering of the tune and arrangement. Weather Report had truly become as much of a “big band” as it had a small group. Whatever the size of Weather Report, Joe always managed to make it sound bigger. I still marvel at all of the sounds he was able to summon and command. All made the better with Wayne playing lead. It all ends up being really interesting to listen to, even with the repeating vamp. And, while the album version fades out (as the imaginary train trails off into the night distance), we played this triplet ending for a short while in concert, convincingly performed and captured here in London.
Time for a ballad. Joe hints at the compositions Speechless and Scarlet Woman in his introduction before playing the Dream Clock chord that lets us know what tune we’re about to hear. Harmonically ingenious. Jaco enters and the tune is on its way, with Wayne stating the melody as only Wayne can. Jaco’s interaction is uncanny in this rendering, there’s simply more of him than on any other version I’ve heard of this tune. Thank you, Sony cassette-recorder.
And now, Rockin’ in Rhythm. This was Joe’s idea to pay tribute to Duke Ellington in particular and to jazz in general. The visual accompaniment to this was a multiple-screen slide show with photographs selected by Joe and Wayne that formed a love letter of sorts to 52nd Street in New York and some of their jazz heroes. The band at this time was enjoying incredible popularity and this often created resentment in some of these same jazz visionaries, jazz heroes or contemporaries of Joe and Wayne. I suspect this was Joe’s reply to some of that.
Port of Entry completes the quintet recordings for this collection; only this is the quartet. Weather Report added the great percussionist Bobby Thomas, Jr. to the band one week into its January 1980 tour of the USA. That tour began in the city of Virginia Beach with three days of rehearsal, where Joe, Wayne, Jaco and I learned a whole new book of music, music that would eventually from the core of the Night Passage album. This is the only recording I know of that documents the quartet playing this quintet music. The arrangements were very much in flux, and so this rendering of Port of Entry seems very much in the spirit of Weather Report. We had very little if any arrangement to depend on (while attempting to play these through-composed tunes, albeit Wayne’s songs usually offered less in the way of pre-arranged sections and more in the way of make-it-up-as-you-go-along. We had not yet discovered the double-time jam solution…or escape!). So, as rough as some of the music might sound, I believe it to be an essential representation of the band. Note the variety of sounds Joe is getting from his synth set-up, and I’m playing with one hand on an African balafon (xylophone with gourd resonators), and so on. The cassette tape was found after the initial mastering session for this boxed set was done
“Side Four” of this set returns to Japan, 1978 for most of its source, the bulk of the Japanese concert recordings coming from FOH engineer Brian Risner’s personal cassette tape collection: Osaka, 1978, heretofore unheard since the concert was played 35 years ago as of this writing.
We began the concert with Wayne Shorter’s Elegant People. Jaco’s throwing in some funk guitar comping, Wayne’s soloing all over the place, Joe is coming up with single note comping during all of this, and I’m trying everything I can think of. Hey, it’s exciting. And that Slingerland drumset sounds good! Whatever else he drum performance lacks in subtlety or from is matched or exceeded by energy and enthusiasm.
Perhaps Joe sums this time period up best when he says, “Jaco was a fantastic player! And Peter was coming out fresh, paint still on him, fresh and exploring. It was a great, great group! For four people to play ‘live’ like that, I don’t think there is too much around today to compare to it. I can say in retrospect — ’cause you never know when you’re doing it — that was the height.”
Elegant People is followed by Scarlet Woman (Weather Report had some of the best names for songs), again from the Osaka 1978 gig. Composed by Joe, Wayne and Alphonso Johnson and appearing for the first time on the Mysterious Traveler album, the song enjoyed an encore recorded appearance on the 8:30 album. The solo section is a one chord affair…we would later add a short bridge that took the harmony a couple of different places as a respite and transition.
A few days following the June 1978 Osaka concert, Weather Report played in Tokyo, where this version of Black Market was recorded. We’re still trying to get a handle on the tempo and the interpretation of the tune, but it’s fascinating to hear this version that preceded the 8:30 recording by almost five months — in band touring time, that’s a lot of miles and concert hours. The samba-funk drum accompaniment to Wayne’s solo works well in that it supports more than competes with him…however Joe or Jaco don’t seem to trust it enough to leave it alone for too long (or….they wanted to join in on the fun). We had not yet come up with the modulation / change of key for Joe’s keyboard solo that marks the 8:30 and German video versions which were both done in the autumn of that same year. Dig Wayne’s be-bop quote at 10:28 into the tune! This NHK recording does not capture the sound of the taped fireworks so well (heard to good effect by the audience), but everything else is recorded quite properly.
And now: a unique Jaco solo from the Osaka 1978 concert recorded by Brian Risner, presented for the first time. This reminds us well of how creative and stunningly excellent Jaco’s playing could be. If his solos in later years relied on some redundant themes, he displays creativity and originality in great abundance during this 1978 tour of Japan recording.
Jaco’s Teen Town follows, this recording made on a videocassette that my father made of the band playing in concert in Reading, PA, 1978, sound courtesy of a monaural line-feed from the front-of-house PA mixing console. My father carried this large RCA video deck and camera (handheld ‘though he and it deserved a tripod) and he documented a pair of concerts recorded in Washington, DC and this Reading show. After that, Joe expressed his discomfort with the shows being videotaped, and that was that. Zawinul later told me (during the short-lived Weather Update band venture) that he wished that my father had documented more of the band’s concerts in 1978, etc., because “we were playing better songs back in those days…” Young & Fine would be one of those “better” songs, and so would Teen Town, at least the way we were playing it then.
This space and time collection machine transports us back to Osaka, June 1978, to the near- end of that concert…a drum solo that draws its inspiration from Gravatt (Tokyo “live” recording), Elvin, and the overall excitement of simply being there with Weather Report! (Note: it’s not that easy to play like those guys on a large/stuffed bass drum and toms tuned not-so-high, etc.) The job of this drum solo was to take the band into Directions, a tune written by Joe and first played/ recorded by Miles Davis. We had barely touched upon this tune in rehearsal. Wayne’s entrance reveals the excitement the entire was feeling as well as generating. The tempo change allows us to swing a bit…I toss in some Roy Haynes for good measure…Jaco plays the blues…a good time is had by all.
If I had to sum up the overall tone and/or importance of this collection of music — its raison d’etre (reason for being) — it would be this: WEATHER REPORT was a JAZZ BAND. The time period between the summer of 1978 and 1981 saw the group evolve to a quartet and back to a quintet, with more pointed references to Ellington and the band’s musical father (despite Joe and Wayne and Jaco’s protests and denials), Mile Davis, than any other time in WR’s output. These board and audience tapes confirm the band’s roots and make everything else the band played have more sense, somehow. I’m not sure what role I might have had in any of that but I am certainly glad that I was there for all of it. We shared a lot of common musical history — the cross references to Maynard Ferguson’s big band (Joe & Wayne had worked for Maynard back in the day), the common listening posts that Jaco and I shared (that he recognized when he first heard me /why he recommended me to Joe & Wayne), the years that Joe and Wayne shared on 52nd Street, and in Birdland, and in so many jazz joints and concert stages…Jaco and Bobby Thomas, Jr’s Florida vibe — and the resultant chemistry and chemical change that occurs when you combine so many ingredients and then place them into a pressure cooker otherwise known as a tour … well, you get what you hear on these board tapes.