Sunday, April 17, 2011

Weather Report – Sweetnighter

Among many groundbreaking recordings and concerts presented by groups of progressive rock and electric jazz in early seventies, Weather Report should be seen as quite unique phenomenon. Considering Miles Davis recordings from electric period, Weather Report become one of most recognizable modern jazz groups playing fusion jazz. And it was always much more popular than other fusion, jazz-rock formations, even these less ambitious, playing soft jazz or rock with elements of improvisation. But even these less ambitious groups in early seventies were ephemeras and didn’t play significant role in the world of music. Weather Report was highly noted from their first recording.
In the beginnings group was joint enterprise of three musicians Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Miroslav Vitous. Zawinul and Shorter were friends since 1959 when they met playing in Maynard Ferguson’s Big Band. They knew classically trained bass virtuoso Miroslav Vitous from Miles Davis electric sessions. These three musicians became core of the group for the first three years of its history while other instrumentalists, especially drummers and percussionists were permanently changing. Third studio album of the group and last record of this lineup was Sweetnighter – almost 45 minutes of music recorded during five days session in February 1973.

Weather Report – Sweetnighter  (1973)

Weather Report personnel on Sweetnighter is diversified and varies in each track. Joe Zawinul playing keyboards – electric and acoustic piano and synthesizer – clearly catches the role of a leader. Wayne Shorter plays soprano saxophone and he is establishing the sound that became hallmark of the group and subject of thousand imitations through the whole seventies. Miroslav Vitous is playing in all tunes but last one, Wayne Shorter’s Non-Stop Home – the track can be seen as forecast of next album Mysterious Traveller. Uncomplicated, groovy ostinatos were more funky or R&B than jazz and were definitely not enough sophisticated to satisfy ambitious virtuoso. On next album Vitous is present only in one tune and these are marks of his conflict with Zawinul which nature was probably not only musical. The whole group encloses five other musicians. There are two drummers – Eric Gravatt and Herschel Dwellingham, two percussionists – Dom Um Romao and Steve „Muruga” Booker, as well one multi instrumentalist Andrew N. White III playing electric bass and English horn.
What makes Sweetnighter so exceptional is the rhythmic continuity. Trance intensity of 125th Street Congress, a 12-minutes long composition by Zawinul on B-Side brings on mind few years earlier Miles Davis electric recordings. A kind of sensation in 1973 was opening the album 13-minutes track and based on ostinatos – Boogie Woogie Waltz. Repetitions were the principle method of organizing whole material of the composition – in accompaniment as well as in solos which are series of repetitions of the same motifs. Some listeners believed the title and triple metre of this composition are associated with Zawinul’s Vienna origins, but considering characteristics of boogie woogie and waltz it is clear the idea was to connect these two into one. From the construction point of view the more traditional theme is Shorter’s Manolete, but it is still based on repeating motifs. Generally program of Sweetnighter album is the cycle of dreamy sound visions came from new possibilities of electronics and drive by repeating strong rhythmic patterns. This is what made Weather Report group of the year 1973 in Down Beat Readers Poll and their third album one of best  definitions of fusion jazz.

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