Album Reviews

Jaco Pastorius

Truth, Liberty & Soul

Artist:     Jaco Pastorius

Album:     Truth, Liberty & Soul

Label:     Resonance

Release Date:     05.26.2017

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Once again Zev Feldman and his team at Resonance have given us a gift. Determined work and numerous negotiations over more than six years have resulted in the entirety of Jaco Pastorius and Word of Mouth Big Band with special guest, harmonica icon Toots Thielmans performance at the Kool Jazz Festival in NYC on June 27, 1982. These two discs contain over 40 minutes of this show that were not aired on the original NPR Jazz Alive! Broadcast.

In true Resonance fashion, the package includes a 100-page booklet full of rare photos as well as essays and interviews with many of the participants and engineers.The self-described “world’s greatest bass player” is in peak form here, playing not only with his sextet, Word of Mouth (WOM), but augmented by a big band that featured some of NYC’s best players. Pastorius formed his band in 1980 while he was still with Weather Report but by 1982 he and his rhythm mate, drummer Peter Erskine, had both left that band. If, like me, you’re more familiar with Pastorius’ brilliant body of work with Weather Report, it’s revelatory to hear Jaco with this accompaniment. The other members of WOM were Randy Brecker on trumpet, Bob Mintzer on sax and reeds, Othello Molineaux on steel pans and Don Alias on percussion. In addition to the big band which plays on almost all 14 tracks, harmonicist Thielmans is featured on half of them. Pastorius’ “Three Views of Secret,” done with Weather Report is transformed in grandiose style here by the big band.

Like fallen heroes Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison from the rock genre, Pastorius made a remarkable impact in a short time—basically only seven years (’75-’82) of recorded material. The rather mercurial Philadelphia native fused seemingly incongruent elements—big bands, Motown, the Caribbean/Latin flavors of his South Florida upbringing, the influences of Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers, the funk of James Brown and others into a signature sound. As you listen, you’ll hear these elements in this performance. While some consider Motown’s James Jamerson the best bassist of all time, Jaco remains the model for expressiveness and intonation on fretless bass. Sometimes he sounds like a guitar or keyboard player. The array of sounds he culls from his instrument is astounding.
In the booklet, Pastorius historian, Bill Milkowski, describes each selection in the set. Here’s an excerpt, “They come out of the gate charging hard on an up-tempo rendition of Bronislaw Kaper’s “Invitation.” Jaco fuels the groove with his incredible tumbao feel on the bass while Erskine falls into lock-step on the kit and Alias percolates underneath on congas.” It’s very enjoyable to read these descriptions upon your first listen. Among the numerous musical highlights, I was especially struck by Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee,” where Bird’s lead is played in unison by Jaco on bass, David Bargeron on tuba, and Mintzer on electric bass clarinet, sounding more like a mellotron than a reed player.
Peter Erskine had this to say about the album, “…I would dare say that there’s no finer version of what Jaco’s musical vision was than this particular concert and recording. Bassist Victor Wooten adds, “This is a rare find; like finding a never-before-seen Picasso or Van Gogh painting.” Yes, it’s that great. Whether you’re a jazz fan or not, you owe yourself a listen to this masterpiece.
—Jim Hynes.

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