In the ’70s and ’80s, Jaco Pastorius revolutionized electric bass playing. The imprint of his bold sound can be heard in bass players from jazz to rock to funk. Whether in the seminal fusion group Weather Report, his own high-energy electric bands, with guitarists Pat Metheny and Mike Stern, or in the jazzier work of Joni Mitchell, his charismatic presence and stellar playing moved the bass into the very center of the mix. Although an anthology of his work titled “Punk Jazz” was released this year, there have been relatively few posthumous tributes to his genius.
“Word of Mouth Revisited” corrects that with an excellent set of big-band arrangements of Pastorius’ originals and other tunes he made his own. Only a select few musicians inspire their own big band, and with a fragmented career and erratic work in his later years, Pastorius seems an unlikely choice. The Jaco Pastorius Big Band, though, captures the vitality of his style and nicely translates his “punk jazz” into modern big-band style. The 12-piece group arranged and conducted by Peter Graves adds a broad palette of colors to the small-group originals. The energetic flow of their musical conversation with Pastorius reveals subtleties and complexities that were sometimes lost in the high-energy fun of his brief decade-and-a-half of work.
What turn this tasty big-band outing into a special occasion are, of course, the bassists — eight of the best in electric jazz. The words of praise for Pastorius included in the liner notes, from bass masters such as Richard Bona, Christian McBride and Marcus Miller, could be conveniently summed up as: “Hearing Jaco made me a bassist.” Their bass playing is placed front and center with one player featured on each cut. While they all play in their own individual style, Pastorius’ influence is clearly evident.
Pastorius’ life was cut short in his mid-30s: After years of substance abuse, he died in a street fight. This big band resurrects some of that lost potential, though, much in the same way that Miles Davis collaborator and orchestra arranger Gil Evans did with Jimi Hendrix songs in the early 1970s. A similar kind of hero worship is at work here as well, but justifiably so. Rare talent and profound innovations always leave a legacy that begs to be followed up. The result here is a fascinating big-band reworking of one of the major figures in jazz and a classic bass player’s CD that fits nicely alongside Pastorius’ own work.
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