Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tonight's Jazz Forecast calls for Weird Noises

Few things get music buffs more worked up than the controversy over the word JAZZ. I once had a teacher in high school tell me that anything recorded after the Original Dixieland Jazz Band wasn't really jazz music (I think he was serious!). Charlie Parker was called "Anti-Jazz". So was John Coltrane. Now, as far as I'm concerned - the real "anti-jazz" goes by the name of Kenny G and if your haven't read the now-classic editorial on that guy by Pat Metheny you haven't lived. You can dig it up on the net somewhere - it's a hoot!

Anyway - jazz gets a bum rap even, inadvertently, from some of its biggest supporters. Maybe that explains the poor attention this beautiful American art form gets in its own country. One of the last great exponents of jazz in the 20th Century took the music to the world stage, both literally and figuratively. Unfortunately too many folks these days lazily lump the efforts of the various members of Weather Report into either the dreaded "Fusion" category or - worse still - try to blame these guys for pushing the music closer to that evil cousin of real jazz - SMOOTH JAZZ. (Now I happen to believe Mavis Staples when she says "The Devil don't HAVE no music." But I think, if push came to shove, the guy with the pitchfork and horns would probably pick "smooth jazz" as the soundtrack to his environment!)

So, I'm going to shout it for the world to hear:  WEATHER REPORT is NOT "Smooth Jazz"!! Good melodies? Yup. Commercial appeal? It their time, yep. Smooth? No way. In fact, if musicians tried to do today what Weather Report did in the 70s they'd never get as much attention. Josef Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and company were serious sound freaks. They were constantly searching, trailblazing and just plain throwin' it down night after night. Witness the clip below from Montreaux 1976. Zawinul is at the helm of a bank of analog keyboards AND an antique thumb-piano AND running sped-up tapes of what sounds like indigenous chanting from......who KNOWS where.

So - is it World Music then? I don't know. I just know it cooks and it ain't smooth. Lots of Weather Report albums can be had for cheap - some more interesting than others. None should be ignored. If you ears can dig the sounds from the clip - watch the rest of the concert. Dig that young punk on the bass - Jaco had just joined the band and was a few years away from becoming engulfed by his personal demons - he's at the peak of his badness here.

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