Monday, August 29, 2011

Weather Report – I Sing the Body Electric

There are only few jazz ensembles being as much popular among jazz fans and those, who have never switched to jazz. Even comparing to all fusion groups, Weather Report was always more recognizable than Herbie Hancock’s „Head Hunters”, Chick Corea’s „Return to Forever” or John McLaughlin’s „Mahavishnu Orchestra”. The great audience appreciation was not instantly the effect of musicians work. Also the connection between group’s style and the idea of fusion jazz was not automatic. After success of their first record, musicians were trying to expand their sound possibilities. The core of the group was still constituted by the same three artists – Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Miroslav Vitouš. In effect of disagreements during European tour promoting first album of Weather Report group stop their cooperation with Alphonse Mouzon. For live gigs and later recordings they had engaged Brazilian percussionist Dom Um Romão and after parting with Mouzon they incorporated new drummer Eric Gravatt.
After great success of Weather Reports debut which was chose an album of the year in Down Beat readers poll, after series of successful tours all over the world, in 1972 fusion super group published their second album. Opening with Zawinul’s spatial and ambient composition Unknown Soldier, first part of this record is full of brilliant ideas, surprising turns of musical narration and freely impressions. The way musicians are organizing the contents of this album means group withdrawal from collective improvisation and basing on intuition creation. Predominant model of musical material organization is composition, form improvisations is dialoguing between Shorter playing saxophones and Zawinul on electronic keyboards or between Shorter and Vitouš who was playing his own acoustic version of funk. Like in Miles Davis’ fusion recordings, rhythmic intensity is the driving force of Weather Report sound. Drummers and percussion players were changing, but still this feature applies to all records by the band.

Weather Report – I Sing the Body Electric (1972)

The second album from the band Weather Report was an attempt to link the various tendencies and the result of seeking a new balance between the elements of arrangements and improvisation. It has been assumed two different points of view, one option was studio recording in part one and different one was live recording in the second part. The A-Side was recorded in New York CBS Studios – first two selections in November 1971, next two in January 1972. In Unknown Soldier group was augmented by Andrew White playing English horn, flutist Hubert Laws Jr., trumpeter Wilmer Wise and voices of Joshie Armstrong, Yolande Bavan and Chapman Roberts. And The Moors is developing from solo played by Ralph Towner on 12-string guitar. All B-Side selections were recorded January 13th, 1972 in Tokyo concert performance. And here construction of the pieces is no longer the matter of composition. Dialogues between Zawinul and Shorter tend to collective improvisation, which at the start recalls the style of Miles Davis’ band during the In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew period, however, is much denser. In Surucucú and Directions returning echoes of free jazz and late sixties modern jazz.
The rich, dense structure of the album has been extended by semantic context of the title. The phrase I Sing the Body Electric is taken probably from the Ray Bradbury short story collection with the same tittle. But it is also the tittle of very well known poem by Walt Whitman, where he is saying about the sensual human body. Whitman is idealizing human body, sanctifying women and men bodies and giving them sacred dimension. Agatha, the heroine of Bradbury’s story, is a child with doubts about a surrogate of her dead mother – she rejects Electrical Grandmother until she realizes the surrogate is immortal. The title of Weather Report album corresponds with the cover by Ed Lee, with art by Jack Trompeter and Fred Swanson. The designers have focused their attention on the futuristic references to electronic instrumentation and spatial sound of this music.

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