Friday, July 7, 2017

Weather Report - 1972 [2014] "Live In Tokyo"

Live in Tokyo is the third release (and first live album) by Weather Report. It was recorded on January 13, 1972. It was one of five sold-out concerts played in Japan during January 1972. I Sing the Body Electric contained several tracks that were edited for the studio album, but can be heard as they were performed, in their entirety, on this live album.

Part of the fire seemed to come from the Japanese people themselves. “When we went to Japan,” Zawinul recalled, “we didn’t know what kind of a response we would get, but I couldn’t believe what happened. We thought, ‘What are we gonna do with these Japanese people, man?’ They’re so beautiful, such wonderful listeners, but laid back. That was their culture. So we said, ‘Let’s hit ’em hard, right from the first note,’ and we hit ’em hard! We improvised, because the tunes we had written at that time were not very long–eight bars here, a nice little melody, and so on–but we worked it over, and sometimes we’d play it long, sometimes short. It was an inspirational way of doing things, and through that slowly we developed into a band.” [IASW, p. 144]

In a 1977 article, journalist Sy Johnson recalled his impressions of a Weather Report concert from this period. “[Weather Report’s first album] was an intriguing but introspective affair that puzzled many and won over few. I heard the band in a coffee house in the Village shortly after that first Columbia record, and the vagueness had disappeared. A hard-driving confidence was radiating from the bandstand. Eric Grávátt was on drums and moving the group with rare musicality. Dom Um Romão had taken Airto’s place on percussion… [This band] was everything we could have imagined, and more.” [Jazz77]

In a 1972 article, Zawinul talked about the band’s live performances: “Right from the start, [playing together] was just a very natural thing. But I can’t really talk about the music. None of us can. We don’t know what’s happening. We have our tunes and lines, which we always play differently. What’s happening up there is just composing, and when it’s right, it’s magic. There’s a certain chemistry in the band which amazes me–and which makes it very consistent, also.” [MM72]

He offered these words of advice to those planning to attend a Weather Report concert: “Don’t go expecting anything–just let it come to you. That’s the only way I can say it. At the moment, if you expect anything from anyone then you’re likely to get a great shock! That’s all.”

While side two of I Sing the Body Electric gives us heavily edited glimpses of Weather Report as heard live in Tokyo, this two-disc Japanese import contains entire group ensembles from that concert -- and as such, it is a revelation. Now we can follow the wild, stream-of-consciousness evolution of early Weather Report workouts, taking the listener into all kinds of stylistic territory -- from Joe Zawinul's lone acoustic piano to dissonant free form and electronic explosions -- with lots of adjustments of tempo and texture. The pulse of jazz is more evident in their work here than on their American albums, and the example of Miles Davis circa the Fillmore concerts directs the fierce interplay. In his subsequent recordings with Weather Report, and as a leader, Wayne Shorter would rarely equal the manic intensity he displayed in Tokyo. All of the music is encapsulated in five lengthy "medleys" of WR's repertoire, three of which contain elongated versions of themes from the group's eponymously titled debut album from 1971. This would be the radical apogee of Weather Report on records, though they could retain this level of fire in concert for years to come.

Weather Report really cooks in this concert that is both groundbreaking and barrier shattering. The music is definitely seventies Miles Davis styled fusion, but that's the only thing this album has in common with what you have heard from that era. It is interesting that keyboardist Joe Zawinul has stated that he had the whole electric jazz idea in mind when he joined Miles Davis to record the classic album "In a Silent Way." If you listen to this album and understand that this is a Zawinul driven band completely separate from any Miles David ensemble, it is obvious that Zawinul's claims about "In a Silent Way" are well founded and justified by facts and the passage of time.

There is a lot to recommend the music found at this live concert event. For one thing, Weather Report's sound was often forged at concert dates and then recorded in the studio. The real essence of Weather Report, one could observe, is that of constant live composition and improvisation that thrives on the spontaneity of the moment. Weather Report was founded on the notion that everyone solos while no one solos, and it was an ongoing collaborative effort.

That was in sharp contrast to most of the music of the time. Whether listening to popular music, blues, or jazz of that time period, the majority was primarily based on song composition. That is, the music was first a song with the structure of verse, chorus, or bridge - and it was recorded or performed live in that format. Weather Report pioneered the ongoing sound that was based on a riff or melodic fragment, rhythm or bass line - and was ongoing without clear definition of compositional structure. That was a real contribution to the evolution of music in general and jazz in particular, one that is still being explored today in the musical idioms that followed.

In addition to all the analyzable elements, this album rocks! There is a lot to recommend this album for rock, funk, soul, and jazz audiences - and every bit of it moves and grooves and just kicks hard. There is a lot of experimental, even avant garde sound here as well. The sonic experimentation is awesome, and those with renewed interest in classic synthesizer sound will be thrilled and amazed.

Wayne Shorter excels as always in the saxophone department. His sense of melody, harmony, rhythm, and improvisational flair are unequalled. He truly tells a musical story with every song, every solo. His collaboration with Joe Zawinul's keyboard work is legendary and does not disappoint here. He also succeeds in taking many of the songs in unexpected directions as he spins his musical contributions throughout the concert.

Track listing:

CD 1
01 Medley: Vertical Invader/Seventh Arrow/T.H./Doctor Honoris Causa (Vitouš, Zawinul) – 26:14
02 Medley: Surucucú/Lost/Early Minor/Directions (Shorter, Zawinul) – 19:19

CD 2
01 Orange Lady (Zawinul) – 18:14
02 Medley: Eurydice/The Moors (Shorter) – 13:49
03 Medley: Tears/Umbrellas (Shorter, Zawinul) – 10:54


Josef Zawinul - Electric and acoustic piano
Wayne Shorter - Saxophones
Miroslav Vitouš - Bass
Eric Gravatt - Drums
Dom Um Romão - Percussion



  2. Thanks so much for an upgrade from my old @192!