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Published: 2002/12/22
by Pat Buzby

Live and Unreleased – Weather Report

Columbia/Legacy 625526

It's unfortunate that so many found reason to dismiss jazz/rock in the 70's
and to ignore it since, but even an enthusiast like myself must admit that
not many artists working that combination consistently did justice to both
genres. Out of the first wave of fusion acts, Weather Report is one of the
few which even skeptics generally acknowledged, due to the intelligence that
Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter brought to their work, and perhaps the only
one which still had some of its best work ahead of it when 1979 came around.

Since Zawinul and Shorter called it a day in 1986, though, even Weather
Report has come close to becoming locked into a distant and forgotten era,
and this two-disc live set is the first opening of the archive. (Imagine
not having any Dead vault releases until 2011.) This listener, youngish but
just old enough to remember when that era was still alive, finds himself
wondering if he might be praising this band for its goals rather than its
accomplishments, wondering, for instance, if a fresh listener might scoff at
"Where The Moon Goes"'s vocoder vocalizing or fusiony (in the less positive
sense of the term) synth/drum duel rather than yielding to its explosive
climax.

Ultimately, though, this live set displays enough realized potential to sell
the jazz/rock idea once again. Check the first three cuts, for instance:
the high-octane improvisational funk of 1975's "Freezing Fire" merges with
the exotic synth/concertina colors and tone poetry of "Plaza Real" from
eight years later, after which the disc backtracks three years to "Fast
City"'s mix of rapid time-no-changes and syncopated shout choruses.

The set blends concert tracks from five lineups. The earliest and most
valuable material comes from the 1975 lineup featuring Alphonso Johnson
(bass) and Chester Thompson (drums), five tracks which more than double the
amount of officially-available music from this lineup, with Johnson in
particular absolutely on fire. Also present is plenty of Jaco, of course,
as well as three cuts from Procession (a fine 1983 album which has
never seen domestic CD release – see what I mean about the forgotten era
thing?) which mark the beginning of the post-Jaco final chapter. Some cuts
exceed the originals, some merely offer worthwhile side-views, but these two
CDs succeed in digging some nuggets from the vaults (hampered only by
occasional anemic mixes, especially on the 80's material).

Like the Dead's Steppin’ Out set from earlier this year, Live and
Unreleased documents a bygone era and a band with both capability and
ambition which has seldom been matched since.

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