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Jaco Redux

A self-professed Fort Lauderdale beach bum, Jaco Pastorius (1951-87) lit the skies of modern music for a relatively short time, yet his afterglow can still be seen. Larry Graham and Stanley Clarke took electric bass to new heights, but Pastorius eclipsed them, making the electric four-stringer a lead instrument in jazz with an approach as radical as Jimi Hendrix´s was for the guitar. Whereas the bass isn´t considered a ¨chordal¨ instrument like piano or guitar, Pastorius didn´t let a little thing like that deter him he made the bass ¨sing,¨ as a guitarist or horn player could, and his influence extends beyond jazz. Bassists Sting, the Red Hot Chili Peppers´ Flea, and Metallica´s Robert Trujillo give J.P. his props.

The Essential Jaco Pastorius is a largely comprehensive double-disc overview, representing Pastorius as leader, band member, and composer/arranger. Disc one chiefly draws upon his stint with seminal fusioners Weather Report (from the albums Black Market and Heavy Weather) and his self-titled 1976 debut. Two of his collaborations with iconic singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell are also featured here. Pastorius played on three of her late-1970s albums, and it was rumored they were romantically involved. Highlights include the bass-and-drums-only take on Charlie Parker´s ¨Donna Lee¨; the moody, cinematic, and prescient ¨Kuru/Speak Like a Child¨; and ¨Talk to Me,¨ on which Pastorius´ mellifluous lines interweave sublimely with Mitchell´s voice and guitar. Disc two has more Weather Report (from Mr. Gone, Night Passage, 8:30), another Mitchell track (from Mingus), and three from Pastorius´ magnum opus, Word of Mouth. It´s great to hear the bassist´s sinewy rage alongside and under Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul on ¨Teen Town.¨ Word was J.P.´s final album, an ambitious attempt to integrate all his inspirations, including swing, funk, classical, and more in an orchestral context. By and large, though, Essential lives up to its title, whether you´re a Pastorius fan/neophyte or a devotee of electric bass or jazz fusion before its edges got smoothed over.

Trio of Doom collects complete recordings of what was thought to be a one-off 1979 Havana music festival gig by Pastorius, guitarist John McLaughlin, and drummer Tony Williams. Here, their live tracks, previously documented on Columbia´s Havana Jam collections (´79), are joined with their only studio sessions. The jammy TOD is a little rough ´n´ loose but worth it for its principals´ unreserved repartee and McLaughlin´s scorched-earth assaults.

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Mark Keresman