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Audio CD, Original recording reissued, Original recording remastered, September 23, 1997
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Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter didn't truly fulfill Weather Report's artistic and commercial potential until they brought on-board a bassist who could function as an equal partner in the musical equation, like co-founder Miroslav Vitous, whose main shortcoming was his inability to play funk. In renegade bassist Jaco Pastorius, the band found a formidable composer and improvisor, who possessed deep roots in funk and R&B, yet was equally at home in modern jazz and Afro-Cuban settings. Not coincidentally, the presence of this innovative fretless bassist on Heavy Weather gave Weather Report the rhythmic/melodic dimension it had been missing since Vitous's departure, as evidenced by his voice-like declamations on Zawinul's ballad "A Remark You Made." On Zawinul's chart-topping, big band-styled arrangement of "Birdland," Pastorius provided the kind of big, sweeping orchestral gestures the tune required, while on the shifting canvas of Wayne Shorter's "Harlequin," the bassist's ability to articulate complex chords allowed him to function as a string section unto himself. And on his own "Havona," Pastorius not only soloed with horn-like artistry, but combined with drummer Alex Acuna and percussionist Manolo Badrena to give Weather Report its funkiest rhythm section ever. --Chip Stern
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If you follow the individual careers of the two founding members, you already know that before Weather Report, Joe Zawinul had paid his dues with Dinah Washington, Cannonball, and Miles. Wayne Shorter got his start with Art Blakey and was in the quintessential quintet with Miles. Not to mention chalking up an impressive solo career.
Weather report was a direct outgrowth of those formative experiences and as such, these musicians (and their illustrious band mates) had no choice but to constantly seek musical authenticity in both their playing and writing. There's a logical progression from one album to another. The band morphed from post-Bitches Brew freedom to a gradual development of increasingly complex compositional structures that gained in formal structure as the band grew. Some diehard fans felt (and I totally get it,) that the best Weather Report occurred on those early recordings, and that by Heavy Weather, the band had become too commercial. Yet listening to this album today I'm stating unequivocally, "This was simply not the case"
This album is a deeply musical as anything in the band's output. Just listen to "Palladium," a Shorter tune with teeth. That the tune has a catchy rideout isn't a crime - at the time it was an innovation - and check out the writing, and Shorter's muscular solo on that outro...Or Zawinul's tune, "The Juggler": Deep, evocative, dynamic and utterly uncliched.
No, this music shouldn't be denigrated with the derogatory term, Fuzak. This is way too nuanced and harmonically complex music for that facile term. Perhaps some people have simply listened to this album too many times to hear it with fresh ears. Imagine for a moment what this album must've sounded like when it first came out in 1976: Revolutionary.
With regards to the SACD. I believe I am in a unique position to comment on it as I own not only the original vinyl, the 1997 Bob Belden remaster, but also the Japanese Mark Wilder remaster (from the box set, 2007) and the Sony Japanese SACD (SAME 1999.)
In a nutshell, this is now the definitive remaster. I believe mastering engineer, Kevin Gray has wrung just about every detail one could hope for out of the master tape.
That doesn't negate the fact that from a purely audiophile standpoint, this is a flawed recording: the album still sounds anemic in the bass, and the recording still has an overly bright sheen on the top end. Yet compared to the previous versions, it simply blows them all out of the water. Whereas the other versions either have a problem with a brittle, thin high end with not nearly enough bottom (Wilder,) or suffer from a lack of high end definition but have a little more punch in the low end (Belden), or suffer from lack of mid range warmth (basically, all of them) this puppy has achieved a nice compromise.
Also, as noted by the first review, the sound stage is very wide here - and I mean huge. The end result is a stunning remaster that probably can't be improved upon unless one took on the arduous task of locating the original tracks, getting the rights and remixing the project. Knowing that will never occurr, this is probably the best sounding Heavy Weather we're ever likely to hear. And like Audiofideilty's remarkable remaster of Tale Spinnin', which I have grown to admire more and more since it's release, this one will probably grow on me as well, despite its obvious sonic shortcomings.
This recording is the ripe fruit of the fusion movement. It's not the most important or semenal work, like electric Miles or Mahavishnu, or even the earlier work of this same band, but if you want to explore this genre, and excellent place to start. You'll be humming Birdland for weeks.
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My experience of the band was really dominated by the more celebrated tracks on this record and the live album "8.30" which I always liked. However, the element of 1970's excess seemed to marr these records. "Heavy Weather" includes the stasnd out tracks "Birdland" and "A remark you made" but, in both instances, the live versions on "8.30" are more exciting. "Teen Town" seems far more intriguing but it is the unfamiliar stuff such as "Havona", "Palladium" and "The juggler" which provide a degree of interest. Shorter pops in and out, occasionally offering something of interest yet it palls in comparison with his work with the acoustic quartet he has been working with throughout the 2000's. The stars of the record are no doubt the two percussionists and they give the music a bite and degree of snap which makes the arrangements more interesting. All in all, this is not as commercial a record as I had anticipated and Zawunal was still very much switched on to jazz harmonies so that the credibility remained.
I don't think this is quite as good as "Black Market" which maybe offers a stronger jazz element. Neither records seem particularly rocky and if there is an influence from other genres, it is clear that Joe Zawunal had his ear firmly cocked towards big band jazz and Duke Ellington in particular. The multitude of colours conjured up by the keyboards attest to this and if they are not necessarily as dated as I might have expected, it is clear that the writing was hinting at larger ensembles. In some ways, this is a defining jazz record of the 1970s, a commercial success with appeal outside of jazz yet the underuse of Wayne Shorter remains a disappointment , esepcially if you are familiar with his work with Miles Davis and current quartet. Records like "Heavy Weather" show just how much of this band's music was actually arranged. It is an enjoyable record whilst at the same time indicative of an era when jazz semed to be defined by nostalgia or had retreated to the loft scene where it retained it;s credibility.