Forecast: Tomorrow – Weather Report
Columbia/Legacy 82796 93604
This three-CD/one-DVD Weather Report anthology comes with a quietly audacious title. As a document of yesterday’s vision of tomorrow, it’s quite nice. As an example of today’s conception of tomorrow, it’s more worrying.
If it wasn’t for that catchy, strange, improvisatory, intellectual and emotional body of music Weather Report made between 1971 and 1986, I don’t think I’d care enough about music to write for this site. Few guys have ever said as much with their chops as Wayne Shorter does or Jaco Pastorius once did. They snagged a great series of bassists (the Czech improv wunderkind Miroslav Vitous and the jazz/funk naturals Alphonso Johnson and Victor Bailey) and drummers (the impulsive, Latin-tinged Alex Acuna, the crisply swinging Peter Erskine and the sly, slick Omar Hakim). As for Joe Zawinul, suffice it to say that he broke out of a piano background and became one with his machines to such an extent that Eno titled a track after him. If this is news to you, stop reading this review and get one of their records.
Box set producer Bob Belden certainly knows his way around their catalogue enough to put something together without much wasted time (and props for putting half of 1983’s Procession on CD for the first time in the U.S.). However, in a time where every CD review must contend with the topic of whether the format itself can survive, this box also serves as an example of the major label mistakes which are making tomorrow’s forecast cloudy and forbidding. 2002’s Live And Unreleased set did the group justice, but this one makes me suspect that the guys who knew the music didn’t win enough of the arguments.
Perhaps the folks at Sony know something I don’t. I have to wonder, though, whether anyone new to Weather Report will start with an expensive set when they could pick a single-CD best-of or (the option I recommend) just get one, and then more, of the original albums. And will people familiar with the band buy a set of music they already know to get three unreleased cuts, a “remix” which reshuffles some of the better licks from "125th Street Congress” and adds a silly rap, and a concert DVD? (I suspect the answer is that some will, but few will be happy about it.) Those who do will notice many errors in the liner note info, although hopefully the powers that be will catch those on the pre-release incarnation I have and fix it before this set’s street date.
This is great music. However, using the Downbeat star system, I would have to give this four stars, at most, for making it less, rather than more likely, that a band like this one will get the chance to make its case on a major label again.