Monday, September 21, 2015

Jaco Pastorius - 1974 "Jaco"

Jaco is the unofficial later title of a 1974 LP album on Paul Bley's Improvising Artists Label. It is notable for being the first professional recording showcasing the talents of Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny. The two had gotten to know each other in Miami the year before. Their collaboration continued on Metheny's debut Bright Size Life together with Bob Moses, recorded in December 1975. The record was released the following year by ECM - also home to Bley since his Open, To Love from 1972.

Although one often thinks of Jaco Pastorius' first solo album as being 1976's Jaco on Epic, producer/keyboardist Paul Bley actually gave Pastorius his first chance to lead a recording two years earlier. Coincidentally titled Jaco, this spontaneous set (which has been reissued on CD) is also significant for being among guitarist Pat Metheny's first recordings; completing the quartet are Bley on electric piano and drummer Bruce Ditmas. The music consists of three songs by Bley, five from Carla Bley, and "Blood" by Annette Peacock. Pastorius sounds quite powerful, but Metheny's tone is kind of bizarre, very distorted, and not at all distinctive at this point. The recording quality is a bit shaky throughout the electronic set, and the group does not quite live up to its potential, but Pastorius shows that he was already an innovative player, making this a CD of historic interest.

Very rare release - in fact first Jaco Pastorius album (with collaborators). Pat Metheny on guitar, very interesting electric piano sound by Paul Bley. Carla's Bley compositions.
Music is mostly improvs or very complex modern avant and free jazz compositions. Sound is very atmospheric, so you can easily hear all instrument's lines. Mostly impressive is electric piano - drums interplays, but bass - soft guitar both are important.
This music is far from any form of fusion, and could attract mostly free jazz lovers. But very complex and competent musicianship worth listening, even if you're not a big lover of such music. Important work for Jaco and Pat Metheny fans - you can hear both of them there playing much more seriously, than you can expect.

For a while I've noted (with some bewilderment) a cache of negativity posted here with respect to this album. I've been playing it (on LP) for years and consider it a landmark jazz recording that is little understood and now virtually forgotten.

This date was essentially a Paul Bley release--a recording he made "secretly" and released on his Improvising Artist's label. But whether or not it was Jaco's date is not all that relevant. What is significant is that here --as elsewhere-- Bley possessed the instincts he showed throughout his career for appearing at the right time with the right people. Metheny and Pastorius were on the threshold of changes which would forever alter the vernacular of their instruments. The electric bass has never been the same since this album.

Bley, whose career began early in the 1950's on Mingus' Debut label has been one of the most overlooked piano players in modern times. His history of associations trace his many influences-- Mingus, Ornette, the much-overlooked reedman Jimmy Giuffre, and especially ex-wife Carla Bley and the composer Annette Peacock. As is the case with the writing of Carla and Annette, his mid-60's free playing was a key inspiration to many in the early phase of "fusion"-- a word which still meant something serious between 1968 and the mid-70's.

This is the album that charts that association.

It is also one of several seminal recordings for anyone interested in music from those years or anyone who rejects the notion that improvisational music ended when it "plugged in". The current ideology of neoclassicism which has lodged itself in some circles of jazz criticism dismisses most of the music of this period as inconsequential. This amazes me considering the many avenues in which the music moved forward. Even the developments of 70's big-band composing and arranging (Toshiko Akiyoshi, Sun Ra, to name two) have been neglected.

Contrary to what you may have heard from the Ken Burns series, the music continued to grow spectacularly during that decade.

If anything, landmark albums like this one have increased in stature for some of us, and the non-commercial quality of it is an antidote to a good portion of today's fare--much of which feels like buying a good pair of retread tires.

Think what you will, there are many of us out there who consider Jaco Pastorius to be the most influential musician to emerge since Jimi Hendrix. I would be interested to hear who else has had this much impact on the general approach to an instrument in the last 40 years. This album is historic for several reasons, not the least of which is that it's the earliest example of Pastorius with fully developed chops. His warm tone and unsurpassed subtlety of execution are already in place. His playing here is confident--mature--as much so as anyone in the mid-60's Miles Davis Quintet.

Needless to say, if you buy this album you need to play it more than once. That pertains to almost anything Bley ever did. That's the point of Paul Bley. There's nothing overly cued or "obvious" about anyone else's playing here either--Bruce Ditmas, Metheny and especially Jaco--all weave beautifully subtle lines to the spell of Bley's complex approach to harmony. The album flows uncannily. The players respond to each other in interesting ways. Some have called the playing rambling or aimless on this album...give it another shot. The second side is seamless- one tune flowing into another and everyone stretches out. The tunes are mostly Annette Peacock and Carla Bley compositions--tunes which certainly lent themselves to the energy that runs through this album like a bloodstream. After all these years it's still difficult to shut off.

Metheny was very young at the time of this recording but there are many aspects of his playing which clearly suggest the multilayered paths he would soon establish for anyone who loves guitar. He's playing "outside" here - something he continued to do throughout his career on certain sessions (Song X for example). The earliness of this Metheny date alone should justify the cost of this now-hard-to-locate cd. The Carla Bley composition Vashkar opens side one-- a fusion-totem of sorts, tying it in lineage to the Tony Williams Lifetime album Emergency several years earlier. But perhaps even a tad more than Emergency, this album has stood the test of time.

My only regret is that the group did not include a cover of Carla's ballad "Ida Lupino", which Pat and Jaco would soon be playing at club dates in Boston shortly after this recording.

Track list

    Vashkar (Carla Bley) - 9:55
    Poconos (Paul Bley) - 1:00
    Donkey (Carla Bley) - 6:28
    Vampira (Paul Bley) - 7:15
    Overtoned (Carla Bley) - 1:04
    Jaco (Paul Bley) - 3:45
    Batterie (Carla Bley) - 5:12
    King Korn (Carla Bley) - 0:29
    Blood (Annette Peacock) - 1:28


    Jaco Pastorius - bass guitar
    Pat Metheny - guitar
    Bruce Ditmas - drums
    Paul Bley - electric piano



  2. Great little essay. I really want to listen to this. Thanks.

  3. Chiquilicuatre y ZappaSeptember 27, 2015 at 1:43 AM

    many thanks

  4. Although this is very early for Metheny and he had not yet nailed down his trademark tone and chops, this album has the best played solo he ever did, in my opinion, precisely because he is not constrained by having to play within his trademarked style. He is free to play, and this is the free-est playing he has done, and it is also free of the ethnic and world infatuations that affected most of his 1980s and 1990s albums, and spoiled many of his concerts, at least for this listener. By the way, the vinyl edition sounds better. Bley and Pastorius are also awesome. Ditmas is a lesser known but great player as well.

    1. the vinyl edition DON'T sounds better!!!