Joe Zawinul -piano, keyboards; Wayne Shorter - tenor and soprano saxes; Jaco Pastorius - electric bass; Manolo Badrena - congas; Alex Acuna - drums
By the time of this June 30th appearance at the 1976 Newport Jazz Festival in New York, electric bass phenom Jaco Pastorius - the new hired gun in the band - had only a few gigs under his belt with Weather Report. He had already recorded two tracks in December of 1975 for the group's Spring 1976 release, Black Market, and officially joined Weather Report on April 1, 1976 as the band kicked off its Stateside tour in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Jaco's fundamental groovepower and soloistic virtuosity brought a new potency to the band, and he combined with Peruvian drummer Alex Acuña and Puerto Rican percussionist Manolo Badrena to create a formidable rhythm section for this fusion juggernaut which was formed in 1970 by saxophonist Wayne Shorter and Austrian-born pianist-keyboardist Joe Zawinul. The two elders of the group had met in 1959 during a brief stint together in Maynard Ferguson's Orchestra (hear their 1959 Newport Jazz Festival performance here). Shorter left after eight weeks to join Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and subsequently joined the second great Miles Davis quintet (which included pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams). Zawinul would leave Ferguson's outfit for a two-year stint with singer Dinah Washington before joining Cannonball Adderley's quintet, where he remained for nine years. Shorter and Zawinul would later be reunited on Miles Davis's seminal electric jazz offering, 1969's In a Silent Way, and the following year they would form Weather Report, which would become the preeminent fusion supergroup of the '70s.
Sharing the bill of this City Center concert with the Brecker Brothers Band, Weather Report kicks off their set with Wayne Shorter's bubbling, mambo-informed "Elegant People," a new piece from the band's just-released Black Market album. The atmospheric "Scarlet Woman," an entrancing soundscape from the group's previous recording, 1974's Mysterious Traveller, is underscored by Acuña's dramatic use of mallets on tom toms and Jaco's rich chordal work on the Fender electric bass. Zawinul's otherwordly timbres on synthesizer and heavily-treated Fender Rhodes electric piano create eerie but oddly compelling harmonies with Shorter's soprano sax lines here.
The adventurous quartet chugs through Pastorius' "Barbary Coast" from Black Market which segues neatly into Jaco's ultra-funky "Come On, Come Over," a tune from the bassist's remarkable self-titled debut from 1976 on Epic Records. Shorter digs into this earthy, uptempo R&B flavored vehicle and blows with bar-walking gusto on tenor sax. Jaco is next showcased in a stunning, unaccompanied rendition of his ringing harmonics-laden bass anthem "Portrait of Tracy," another piece from his recently-released Epic debut, and his lyrical fretless playing is on display on "Cannonball," Zawinul's lovely ode to his former mentor Cannonball Adderley, who had passed away the previous year.
After exhilarating extended solos from drummer Acuña and percussionist Badrena, the band returns for a medley of Zawinul's "Dr. Honoris Causa" and "Directions" (Note: the opening for this powerful medley contains a melodic snippet which Zawinul would later expand into the catchy mega-hit "Birdland"). Following that electrifying jam, Zawinul switches to piano for an intimate duet with Shorter on soprano sax on "Blackthorn Rose," from Mysterious Traveller. And they conclude their City Center set with Zawinul's dynamic "Gibraltar" from Black Market.
Zawinul and Shorter would continue to co-lead Weather Report, with various personnel changes along the way, through 1986. Shorter left to concentrate on his solo career, which continues to thrive to this day. After a brief fling with Weather Update, a band patterned after Weather Report, minus Shorter, Zawinul formed his powerhouse world music influenced band Zawinul Syndicate in 1987. He subsequently released nine albums and made several worldwide tours with the band over the next 20 years, continuing to perform even after he was diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer (Merkel cell carcinoma) in late 2006. In the summer of 2007, Zawinul embarked on a five-week tour of Europe with his Zawinul Syndicate which was intended as a 75th birthday celebration (he was born on July 7, 1932). For an August 2nd show in Veszprém, Hungary, Zawinul was reunited on stage with his former Weather Report partner, Wayne Shorter, for a poignant duet reading of "In a Silent Way." Five days later, Zawinul was hospitalized in his native Vienna. He died on September 11, 2007. The posthumously-released 75, his final album, won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. (Bill Milkowski)