Share on Nextdoor

Reviews of Weather Report reissues and the latest from I Am the World Trade Center.


Weather Report

Mysterious Traveler
Tale Spinnin'
Black Market

Fusion. In the quarter century since its heyday, the genre has been mocked, vilified and generally discredited. An embarrassing aberration. Chops-mad players strutting shallow pyrotechnics in lieu of soul and substance. Such an assessment is not far off the mark — fusion has not aged well — but, like all genres, it has its notables. Case in point: Weather Report, an ensemble whose reputation has diminished in the years since its breakup in the mid '80s, but whose music remains vital, as evidenced by these three Sony/Legacy reissues from the '70s (accompanied by a Best of Weather Report collection).

The members of Weather Report would never have referred to themselves as a fusion band; they were, rather, a fusion group by association. Formed in the early '70s by two Miles Davis alumni — keyboardist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, brilliant composers both — the group embraced electric bass and keyboards and initially grooved in the open-ended vein of Bitches Brew. Weather Report was never a jazz/rock group akin to the flashy Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever. If anything, Zawinul, Shorter and their revolving, culturally diverse cast became the first high-profile exponents of (lacking a better term) world-jazz.

Mysterious Traveler (1974), the fourth Weather Report LP, was the band's first fully realized classic. Key to this clarified vision was the replacement of jazz bassist Miroslav Vitous with young funkster Alphonso Johnson. As such, the busy, gurgling electric bass became a signature Weather Report element. Zawinul, whose total immersion into synthesizers (strictly analog at the time) enabled him to wrench far more interesting sounds than any of his contemporaries, unveils an array of non-preset textures that add a crucial exotic flavor. Shorter moves further into the kind of fragmented minimalism that would confound his peers.

The disc's grabby compositions — ranging from the frenetic Nubian Sundance to the bucolic Jungle Book — unfold in sections, with riffs giving way to themes, giving way to breaks, diversions and improvisations. It's all extremely cohesive, thanks in large part to the expert groovesmanship displayed by all.

Tale Spinnin' (1975) had the disadvantage of being sandwiched between the watershed Traveler and the sheer brilliance of the following year's Black Market. It's a solid, funk-fortified outing, but the album's identity doesn't crystallize; some of the melodic themes tend to be a bit on the obvious side, with sunny dispositions that don't suit the band. In all, Tale Spinnin' lacks the level of adventurousness that made Weather Report stand out.

Then came the mother lode. Black Market achieved the musical nirvana sought by Zawinul, who once cryptically said of his band, we're always soloing, we're never soloing. Composition and improvisation, rhythm and harmony — they all play equal, seamless roles. A bevy of hooky riffs and melodic motifs overlap and interlace with each other, and none of the stitches are showing. Improvs slide in and out, making profound impact without being carved out as a formal solo. The band's world-music bent comes into clearer focus.

Jaco Pastorius, the godhead of electric bass, makes his Weather Report debut on two tracks, coloring the ballad Cannonball with slurry, high-register accents and centering his own funky Barbary Coast with strutting lines. Zawinul has reached a new level. While other synth players were still playing shrill solos using that dopey pitch-bend wheel, Zawinul's sonic smorgasbord is free of cheese. In all, Black Market is that rare musical beast: ultra-complex and full of surprise, but thoroughly digestible to the ears. It's built from a lot of incredible interlocking parts, the sum of which is even better.Disappointingly, there are no bonus tracks here. A Legacy publicist said that's because, due to their recording methods, Weather Report didn't leave any stuff behind in the vaults.—Eric Snider

Mysterious Traveler

Tale Spinnin'

Black Market


I Am The World Trade Center
The Tight Connection

The second full-length disc from New York, N.Y./Athens, Ga., disco-pop duo I Am The World Trade Center offers better production, better lyrics and a couple of surprise covers — but other than that, it's the same synth-candy that somehow made them buzzy within the indie community's hippest circles. Kindercore has built an overwhelmingly positive reputation by catering to fans surfing the cutting edge of underground pop, and IATWTC is one of their better-known acts. Still, one can't help but wonder if their bleeps, beats and sweet female vocals aren't just reactionary computer noodling. The Tight Connection isn't bad. Dancing Alone, Can't Take the Heat and their cover of The Stone Roses' Shoot You Down are, in fact, pretty damn good. But the whole thing comes off as pretty insubstantial. The record, and the twosome's style in general, ironically seem to suffer from the desire to get away from indie cliches. If guitars and naked emotion are bad, then sugary beeps, light beats and breezy non-feeling must be good, right? Not always. And this pair too often ends up the aural equivalent of soft-serve ice cream — sweet, but mostly air. (Kindercore, www.kindercore.com)
—Scott Harrell I Am The World Trade Center appears at The Orpheum on Wednesday, June 26, along with VHS or BETA and Stargrees and Geekgroov.

Scroll to read more Music News articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.