Thursday, April 30, 2015

Weather Report – Mysterious Traveller

April 30 - INTERNATIONAL JAZZ DAY celebrated under the auspices of UNESCO since 2012

   Considering the leading role of various jazz ensembles of the seventies, it is reasonable to believe the paramount band in fusion jazz was Weather Report. It has longest period of activity, unlike John Mc Laughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters or Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, Weather Report has more than one leader, the style of the band was the most varied in different moments and it comprised widest inspirations of jazz, rock, funk and world music. And what is most momentous, Weather Report was more than any other of mentioned bands related with all style. It was continuing the sound of first Miles Davies’ electric band; it was connected with structures of modern jazz, world music, funk and rock.
   Through the 16 years of Weather Report’s history band has published 16 official albums (13 studio and 3 live). Constant activity required many changes of style. As two leaders, Wayne Shorter and Josef Zawinul were playing through all band’s history, and drummers were changing frequently, the best way to set the activity of the band into periods is to focus on bassists, the third most regular position in the band. It can be divided into four periods depending of presence of bass players: Miroslav Vitous years (1971-1973), Alphonso Johnson years (1974-1976), Jaco Pastorious years (1977-1981) and Victor Bailey years (1982-1986) being the final period in the history of the band.
   After great success of first Weather Report album, after spread of new fusion sound, band was changing its direction. First turn in the history of Weather Report was parting with Miroslav Vitous after three studio records and one album of live recordings (Live in Tokio). Fifth Weather Report album under somehow symbolic title Mysterious Traveller was a sensation of 1974 music market. Clear and transparent, alive and energetic, many dimensional yet focused, this music has potential to inspire and to answer the question of possible development of fusion jazz, although this was still the time the style was specified as jazz-rock. This was also first Weather Report album with new bass player.

Weather Report – Mysterious Traveller (1974)

   The Mysterious Traveler can be seen as an attempt of refreshing the idea of fusion by resumption the late sixties idea of style synthesis and improvising freedom. Compositions of this album are more open and unfinished than before, loosely in formal attempt, but more free in pure musical and dancing context. In 1974 this was like fulfilling the idea of fusion, not just between jazz and rock, but between jazz and all genres of popular music, with special feature position of R&B. Funk syncopation and rhythmic ostinatos gave these compositions character and drive as was remembered from Miles Davis first electric albums. The sound space was expanded by lots of rhythmic instruments, electronic effects and human voices. Five vocalists (Edna Wright, Marti McCall, Jessica Smith, James Gilstrad and Billie Barnum) have their part in Nubian Sundance only, but as it was first and longest track, it dominated whole album with powerful audacity and intensity.
   The narration was dominated by funky compositions of A-Side: Nubian Sundance and Cucumber Slumber, and ethnic framework of 2nd Side: Mysterious Traveller and Jungle Book. These compositions were divided by three compositions American Tango, Blackthorn Rose and Scarlet Woman. First pair has its contrast in American Tango where band appeared for the last time with Miroslav Vitous. Its style is connected with Sweetnighter compositions, although it is also related to the actual direction. After four records strengthening position of Miroslav Vitous, this was first of three records with Alphonso Johnson playing bass guitar. The sound of the band was broaden by the drummers Ishmael Wilburn, and Dom Um Romão playing percussion and additional musicians in some tracks only: drummer Skip Hadden, and percussionist Ray Barretto, Meruga, Steve Little playing timpani, Isacoff playing tabla and Don Ashworth playing ocarinas and woodwinds.
   The same relation can be noticed in Scarlet Woman, nice continuation of firmly established Weather Report style composition. Between these layers and sections the real pearl is Blackthorn Rose, a chamber duo of Wayne Shorter and Joseph Zawinul, beautiful example of responsive improvising. In a way Mysterious Traveller album is an evidence of searching for new directions. It had some transition moments of references with the earlier era of the band but the power of compositions are taken from lots of creative ideas. Five stars for one of iconic albums of the seventies. 

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