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Jaco Pastorius (Epic Records)
One of my first charges here for the Miami New Times sheriffs all the way back in September of 2003 was a review for the Jaco Pastorius tribute CD, Word of Mouth Revisited, on the Heads Up International label. It was an appropriate tribute to the greatest electric bass player the world has ever known. And the review printed three days before Jaco's death anniversary. We all know the story by now. Jaco Pastorius struggled with bipolar disorder and substance abuse demons and never fully received the help that would have quelled those things. He was brutally beaten by a Fort Lauderdale bouncer named Luc Havan and died of the injuries sustained during the altercation. But that is a story for another day.
It gives me great pleasure to add a little culture and class to the Blast From the Past series with Pastorius' first solo album. It was released in 1976, around the same time he shanghaied himself into Josef Zawinul's Weather Report outfit. But it is on this album where Pastorius shines beyond doubt as a musician, arranger, and composer. Discovered and produced by Bobby Colomby of Blood, Sweat, and Tears fame, Pastorius pretty much had free range on this recording since CBS gave Colomby free reign in finding and nurturing new talent. And using industry pull, Pastorius had an ad hoc army of jazz greats from Herbie Hancock and Alex Darqui to proven session men like Don Alias and Othello Molineaux.
Maybe you can pick up a nice LP of this somewhere. If not there is a good reissue with an alternate take of "(Used to Be A) Cha-Cha" and the previously unreleased track "6/4 Jam" which is great. So that aside, the nine tracks that comprise the original album are an amazing example of how to build a jazz record around the bass. The mood is set with "Donna Lee," an excellent rendition of the Miles Davis tune, which is followed by "Come On, Come Over," featuring Overtown's own Sam and Dave, who briefly reunited for this recording. The opening third is closed with "Continuum," carrying some of the most memorable basslines ever. It's the middle of the album, though, that's truly Pastorius' playground, with compositions like "Kuru/Speak Like a Child" and "Opus Pocus." (For the interested, Jaco's nephew David plays the bass on a cover in the Word of Mouth Revisited tribute and it fucking zings!)
Closing out this delicious slab of jazz is the triad of "Okonkole Y Trompa," "(Used to Be A) Cha-Cha" and "Forgotten Love." They're all evocative pieces which, again, show Jaco's mastery in creating a musical environment in which his instrument could really float. At the same time, all instrument parts work in and of themselves, while still agreeing with the bass. That's a feat, if you think of the natural inclination of the rhythm section to lay ground-based direction. This is an excellent debut album by any standards and a great testament to a musician whose life was cut tragically short.