Sunday, November 20, 2016

Weather Report - 1973 [1996] "Sweetnighter"

Sweetnighter is Weather Report's fourth album, released on Columbia Records in 1973. The group had recorded the songs in a five-day stretch during February of the same year. It was to be the last album to feature founding member Miroslav Vitouš as the primary bassist. Zawinul began to assert greater control of the band, steering it away from the collective improvisation that marked its live performances toward more structured compositions emphasizing funk and groove. This was exemplified by the album's two dominant tracks, "Boogie Woogie Waltz" and "125th Street Congress," as well as the closer, "Non-Stop Home." Other tracks were reminiscent of Weather Report's previous albums. Sweetnighter is considered to be the most stylistically transitional release by the band as it bridged the gap between the more open, improvisational earlier style to a more compositionally structured format. Also, the more prominent use of electric bass is evident here. Zawinul had taken the decision to add some funky beats in the band's sounds, so he recruited drummer Herschel Dwellingham and percussionist Muruga Booker to play on the album. Andrew White was hired to play the English horn, but also handled the bass for three tracks of the album. Sweetnighter was recorded at a Connecticut recording studio in less than a week, and was released in April 1973.

"Boogie Woogie Waltz" was frequently in the band's live sets through the 1970s, and a live version from 1978 appeared on the album 8:30. Also in 1978, Vitouš recorded a new version of "Will" with Terje Rypdal and Jack DeJohnette on their collective album for ECM.

Right from the start, a vastly different Weather Report emerges here, one that reflects co-leader Joe Zawinul's developing obsession with the groove. It is the groove that rules this mesmerizing album, leading off with the irresistible 3/4 marathon deceptively tagged as the "Boogie Woogie Waltz" and proceeding through a variety of Latin-grounded hip-shakers. It is a record of discovery for Zawinul, who augments his Rhodes electric piano with a funky wah-wah pedal, unveils the ARP synthesizer as a melodic instrument and sound-effects device, and often coasts along on one chord. The once fiery Wayne Shorter has been tamed, for he now contributes mostly sustained ethereal tunes on soprano sax, his tone sometimes doubled for a pleasing octave effect. The wane of freewheeling ensemble interplay is more than offset by the big increase in rhythmic push; bassist Miroslav Vitous, drummer Eric Gravatt, and percussionist Dom Um Romao are now cogs in one of jazz's great swinging machines. 

“I don’t know what the next record will be,” Josef Zawinul said in the summer of 1972, “but it’ll be something else! We’ve been learning every night, and we’re still growing.”

Indeed, Sweetnighter was something else. Zawinul began to assert greater control of band, steering it away from the collective improvisation that marked its live performances toward more structured compositions emphasizing funk and groove. This was exemplified by the album’s two dominant tracks, “Boogie Woogie Waltz” and “125th Street Congress,” as well as the closer, “Non-Stop Home.” Other tracks were reminiscent of Weather Report’s previous albums, making Sweetnighter a transition from the band’s first phase to what one might call its mature phase.

The 1970's was a very interesting time for Jazz music. The once traditional fundamentals of Jazz were now being ignored, as musicians began incorporating aspects of other genres into their music. These new heretical ideas expanded the conventions of Jazz with improvisatory and experimental approaches, providing the genre with endless possibilities for new techniques and alterations. The Weather Report is one of the few musical groups that fully examined all of the different templates that served as defining characteristics of early Jazz Fusion. Their first two albums, Weather Report and I Sing The Body Electric, explored the more progressive aspects of Jazz Fusion, as the musical orchestrations embraced the usage of ambient effects and complex instrumental passages.

Sweetnighter, on the other hand, is a reflection of a new trend that was beginning to become very prominent in the Jazz Fusion scene. Albums like Miles Davis' On The Corner and Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters began incorporating Funk elements into their typical Jazz routines, introducing a sound that emphasized more on rhythmic grooves rather than elaborate soloistic musicianship. In "Boogie Woogie Waltz", we encounter a completely different musical style that we had never heard in the previous efforts by The Weather Report. Joe Zawinul's synthesizer immediately asserts itself as the centerpiece of the music, deploying an eminent usage of Wah-wah effects to produce a propulsive rhythmic framework for the other instruments. Wayne Shorter's saxophone sets out on its own musical expeditions, delivering solos that not only compliment Joe Zawinul's synthesizer, but also manages to distinguish itself by voyaging along on its own melodies. The song also features a dominating percussive arrangement, using maracas and conga drumbeats to help provide a very Latin-influenced groove.

"125th Street Congress" further expands on this new and more conventional musical style, but is approached with a very different concept. This time, Miroslav Vitouš' basslines dominate the direction of the music, with the other instruments serving to compliment the framework of the groove. This is certainly one of the major highlights of the album as the music induces a very infectious melodic atmosphere that is simply impossible to not lose yourself in. "Manolete" is one of the few songs that manages to deviate from the more funkier theme of the album. "Manolete" is, for the most part, a return to the roots of traditional Jazz. Eric Gravatt dictates the rhythm of the song with some really captivating and bombastic drumbeats. Wayne Shorter's saxophone takes the lead as it carries us along, while mesmerizing us with such exquisite musicianship. But as we approach the climax, we begin to see the song enter into a more abstract territory, with Joe Zawinul providing some really disorienting psychedelic flourishes.

"Non-Stop Home" serves as a truly mesmerizing postlude. This is one of the few times that The Weather Report channel the experimental tendencies of their previous albums. It is a descension into a very progressive environment, indulgently exuding a sense of psychedelia from every pore. Joe Zawinul, yet again, steals the spotlight with some truly innovative synthesizer effects that induce a perceptually overwhelming sense of surrealism. In the end, Sweetnighter proves to be the exact type of album that everyone has been anticipating from The Weather Report. It's content is highly accessible, emphasizing on a more jubilant atmosphere, and leaving behind all of the esoteric and tentative musical procedures of their previous albums.

“Weather Report isn’t the first band to try the multi-percussion trip but so far it has been the most successful. The Grávátt-Dewllingham-Romão-Muruga team plays more than polyrhythms. It blows percussion with the same inventiveness and crispness that Shorter brings to his horns, Zawinul to his keyboards, Vitous to the bass. Perhaps to even the number of melody players versus percussionists, Andrew White has been added on English horn… One interesting thing about Weather Report is that this is a band that lives between categories. There are things here, as on the previous albums, that will grab a jazz audience, a rock audience, or an audience that is into classical music. And yet Weather Report is of none of these worlds–truly a band for which there is no pigeon hole.”

“In the year since I Sing the Body Electric, Weather Report has added an ethereal electronic quality to its acoustic soundscape. Their music is now colored by eerie synthesized qualities, haunted by saxophone lyricism and nervous South American rhythms. Musical thoughts are as much implied as real, likewise the suggestions of foreign places are both geographical and neurological. Thus, Sweetnighter is strictly a travelogue of the Seventies… Weather Report’s true musical peers are groups like the Mahavishnu Orchestra and the Herbie Hancock Sextet. Like them, they fuse rock, jazz and electronics into a descriptive music that is brilliantly innovative and accessible. In this they seem to me the epitome of a significant avant-garde trend.”

Track listing

    "Boogie Woogie Waltz" (J. Zawinul)– 13:06
    "Manolete" (W. Shorter)– 5:58
    "Adios" (J. Zawinul)– 3:02
    "125th Street Congress" (J. Zawinul)– 12:16
    "Will" (M. Vitouš)– 6:22
    "Non-Stop Home" (W. Shorter)– 3:53


    Josef Zawinul – piano (2-6), electric piano (1-5), synthesizer (1-2-6)
    Wayne Shorter – saxophone
    Miroslav Vitouš – bass (acoustic 1-2-4 & electric 3-5)
    Andrew White - bass (electric 1-4-6), english horn (3-5)
    Herschel Dwellingham - drums (tracks 1-2-4-6)
    Eric Gravatt - drums (tracks 2-4-6)
    Moroccan Clay - drums (tracks 1-2)
    Roller Toy - drums (track 3)
    Israeli Jar - drums (track 4)
    Muruga Booker - drums
    Dom Um Romão - percussion, wood flute



  2. I thought the was the third WR album. I) Weather Report, 2) I Sing The Body Electric, what was the third one?

  3. The third album was the not-originally-released-in-America 'Live in Tokyo' double album. So, 'Sweenighter' is their 3rd studio album. Though I had heard the first two releases, 'Sweetnighter' is where I got on board with Weather Report. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be a tough choice between this one and 'Black Market.'

  4. My first two Weather Report albums were "I Sing The Body Electric" and "Heavy Weather".