Weather Report

125th Street CongressSweetnighter
A Remark You MadeHeavy Weather
BadiaTale Spinnin'
Barbary CoastBlack Market
BirdlandHeavy Weather
Black MarketBlack Market
Cannon BallBlack Market
Jungle BookMysterious Traveller
The JugglerHeavy Weather


Weather Report playlist



Contributor: Peter Viney

I listen to Weather Report selections around five times a week. I have a Playlist with instrumentals that runs while I read in bed. Adios starts it off and A Remark You Made comes second, Badia third, so they’d rate among my most played tracks over a year. Adios isn’t fusion or jazz so much as New Age/Avant Garde tinkling hypnotic sounds. I wrote it in my will for my funeral. I never saw Weather Report, though I saw Wayne Shorter, and the Zawinul Syndicate.

Another perennial is Birdland which a hi-fi salesman pointed out years ago is a perfect system judge. At points, Jaco Pastorius presses the bass strings with his left hand, but does not play with his right hand. You hear it on a good system. You can’t hear the subtlety on a poor system. So Birdland (LP and Gold remaster CD) is my standard system set up and check disc. Though having said that, I could hear it clearly on decent hi-fi headphones from my iPad (Apple Lossless) which means it beats my set up of the late 70s!

Like a lot of jazz, I’m really weak on titles, strong on album sides. Weather Report also divides listeners. The highly acclaimed first two albums, Weather Report and I Sing The Body Electric, came when the band was a triumvirate (Zawinul, Shorter, Vitouš), and the lineage from Miles Davis was apparent. Joe Zawinul was after all, the composer of In A Silent Way, which Weather Report used to perform live, a version being on both 8.30 and the Live and Unreleased CD. Live in Tokyo 1972 live set is the early band.

Zawinul said: I always felt a certain commercial value in my music. After the first two albums, I told Wayne “I have to go and play some other music. I can’t just be up there and noodle around … I’m gonna write some serious rhythmic stuff or we can give it up as a band.”

After those first two albums, Miroslav Vitouš thought himself eased out, as Zawinul believed he wasn’t funky enough for the direction he saw. Friends who are devoted to jazz think them their best albums. Me? I Sing The Body Electric is the only early one I didn’t re-buy on CD. I’ve been playing it. Unknown Soldier is one with credentials: the addition of Andrew White on English horn, Hubert Laws on flute … and it sets out Zawinul’s melodic stall, and has the voices he likes to use as colouration, but it has none of the visceral impact of their later work.

I liked it when they changed to a more rhythmic, set, arranged style on Sweetnighter and electric bass came in, and what electric bass too … Andrew White played along with Vitouš on three tracks on Sweetnighter. Then came Alphonso Johnson in 1973 (already using fretless bass), then Jaco Pastorius for their most commercial phase, which I also thought their best. Zawinul has said they didn’t get it right until they added Chester Thompson on drums and Alex Acuna on percussion in 1975. Zawinul called it “our first serious band”.

By then it was a Zawinul-Shorter run band. I prefer the Zawinul direction to the Shorter one too, but I buy Cannonball Adderley albums for Joe Zawinul’s work, with Mercy, Mercy, Mercy being an all-time favourite.

Mysterious Traveller cemented the direction with Alphonso Johnson on electric bass throughout. It also started the side separation. Tracks 1 to 3 are Zawinul (one with Johnson), tracks 4 to 6 are Shorter (one with Johnson) with Zawinul’s Jungle Book in 7th place to round it off. Nubian Sundance and Jungle Book have the accompanying voices, something the Zawinul Syndicate later had programmed into the keyboards. Jungle Book has a gentle floating touch enhanced by the distant chants.

Tale Spinnin’ brought up the African and Latin influence in the mix, with more percussion helping tighter arrangements. This time the tracks alternate between Zawinul and Shorter compositions, starting out as usual with Zawinul, who wrote four to Shorter’s two. Man In The Green Shirt and Between The Thighs look ready for big band versions. Lusitanos is as deeply funky as they get. Badia starts off with tiny sounds, jungle noises. No Shorter, but all sorts of odd instruments. Halfway though the handclaps start, it takes off suddenly, then reverts to the meditative style with vocal interjections by Zawinul. For the closing track, Five Short Stories, Zawinul and Shorter dispense with the band altogether and duet. The sounds Shorter weaves from a tenor sax are astonishing.

On Black Market (1976), Zawinul again composed side one: Black Market, Cannon Ball, Gibraltar (every one worthy of inclusion) then you flipped the LP for Wayne Shorter on Elegant People and Three Clowns, then over to the bass players: Barbary Coast by Jaco, Herandru by Alphonso. I wore out side one, but caused lots of clicks by selecting Barbary Coast on side two. The bass playing makes this one, and I like them thinking 3m 14s rather than six or seven minutes. Their love of added sound effects was becoming a cliché … try the market on Black Market, ships horns opening Gibraltar, or the train sirens and track noise on Barbary Coast.

Barbary Coast was a rehearsal for Birdland on Heavy Weather (1977) which came next. Again, it’s those first two Zawinul tracks that jump out: Birdland, A Remark You Made. This was a hit album, and Birdland is that rarity: a jazz hit single. The Juggler is a further must-have from this album, and Teen Town nearly got in. Teen Town is the second one I might play if I wanted to demonstrate the band, though not my favourite.

8.30 is a double live album from the tour following Heavy Weather. But in spite of impeccable playing, do you want a 4m 46s bass solo? (Slang). I can’t find anything better than the original.

After critical acclaim, the next album Mr Gone was castigated. They’d rocked up the rhythm section with Steve Gadd on two tracks, and added vocals on The Pursuit Of The Woman In The Feathered Hat, and And Then (both Zawinul). Even when the vocalists were Deniece Williams and Maurice White, they got in the way of the sound for me.

From then on, I liked each successive album somewhat less. Night Passage proved a disappointing Christmas present in 1980, though Madagascar, recorded live in Osaka, closed on a good note. They’d reacted to critics of Mr Gone by recording semi-live with a stripped down five piece and I found it frankly dull. I continued to buy their releases, they were on my automatic purchase list, but the magic wasn’t always there.

Procession in 1983 regained critical praise, and Plaza Real and Two Lines appear on later live albums too. Where The Moon Goes was a vocal track with Manhattan Transfer.

Domino Theory in 1984 was an excellent exposition of the formula, but by now it was indeed a formula.

Sportin’ Life in 1985 had a Weather Report-ed version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and Bobby McFerrin as guest vocalist throughout. They kept trying.

Their final album was This Is This in 1986, adding Carlos Santana as a guest on This Is This and The Man With The Copper Fingers. Santana is not necessarily a positive. This was a contractual obligation album, and it is more of the same old same, unfortunately. Wayne Shorter only appears on three of the eight tracks.

So my selection is unashamedly ‘mid-period’ rock fan Weather Report, focussing on just five albums. 2002’s Live And Unreleased has some excellent versions on it.


Joe Zawinul – the official website

Wayne Shorter facebook

Official website dedicated to Jaco Pastorius

Weather Report biography (Apple Music)

TopperPost #172

1 Comment

  1. Colin Duncan
    Jan 21, 2014

    Really enjoyed the article. I missed Weather Report and it was one of the bands I was always going to get to because John Martyn, one of my favourites, mentioned from time to time how he was influenced by Weather Report and enjoyed the playing of Joe Zawinul, including ‘the silences’. This unusual quote stuck with me. Also, Alan Thompson, John Martyn’s great bass player, also mentioned how he was influenced by Weather Report. Never too late, although I went up to Glasgow last week looking for any Bebop Deluxe CD and got nowhere. Thanks, Peter.

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