Recorded between engagements with Pat Metheny and Weather Report, legendary bassist Pastorius’ solo debut practically screams “crossover”. The assembled talent includes Herbie Hancock (who also pens the sleevenote eulogy), the Brecker Brothers, Wayne Shorter, Dave Sanborn and Sam & Dave, specially reunited for the occasion. The whole enterprise is overseen by Blood, Sweat & Tears drummer Bobby Colomby. It’s all the more remarkable given that Epic isn’t a record label especially noted for its commitment to jazz, but the stars certainly aligned for them here.
“Donna Lee”, a Miles Davis tune here erroneously credited to Charlie Parker, is a blatant opening showcase of intent, just Don Alias’ conga line and Jaco’s bubbling virtuosity, a sound non-jazz fans are most likely to recognise from his work on Joni Mitchell’s albums. “Come On, Come Over” seems slightly incongruous in this company, not that it’s bad, but this Sam & Dave-sung funk-lite seems a bit lightweight in this company, especially compared to, for example, the elaborate kinetic switchback of “Kuru / Speak Like A Child”; in pitting an electric jazz group against a string section it seems mightily ambitious. Perhaps the closest comparison I can draw, and even then only from the rock shore of the fusion lake, is Jeff Beck’s roughly contemporaneous “Blow By Blow”, both albums striving to achieve similar ends from different directions.”Opus Pocus” brings the alien timbre of steel drums to jazz; even stranger is “Okonkolé Y Trompa”, with its ambient, drifting French horn melody and odd, insistent rhythm, almost like listening to Philip Glass and side two of David Bowie’s “Low” simultaneously. After frontloading the album with flash, Pastorius doesn’t even play on its closer, “Forgotten Love”, just Herbie Hancock’s piano set against an expensive string arrangement; it somehow manages to seem simultaneously cinematic and intimate.
A consistently inventive and entertaining album, “Jaco Pastorius” is far more absorbing than it has any right to be, certainly more so than any Weather Report album I’ve yet heard. The vinyl pressing that has recently snuck into the catalogues of forward-thinking online retailers isn’t too shabby either, although of mysterious chronological provenance; it lacks a barcode, but the Sony BMG imprint on the cover and labels suggests it must be of fairly recent vintage.