Resonance Records goes out of its way again to unearth yet another significant chapter in jazz history, and once again, it's one that relatively few fans have ever heard. This performance of Jaco Pastorius' Word of Mouth Big Band was captured during George Wein
's Kool Jazz Festival at Avery Fisher Hall. It was broadcast on NPR's Jazz Alive
program, but this double disc contains the entire performance, with more than 40 minutes of additional music.
As his time with Weather Report
wound down, Pastorius threw himself into Word of Mouth. A studio album was issued a year earlier, and versions of this outfit had played in Florida, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Pastorius assembled a who's who for this date. The core band featured Bob Mintzer, Randy Brecker
, Peter Erskine
, Don Alias, and Othello Molineux (on steel drums). That said, the 16-piece horn section included Frank Wess
, Lou Marini
, Lew Soloff
, Jon Faddis
, John Clark, and David Bargeron
(on tuba), to name a few. What's more, the grandest harmonicat of all, Toots Thielemans, was a featured soloist.
Jaco's charts are exquisite, full of energy, sophistication, and humor. Check the tuba intro and burning break in the 13-minute workout on Charlie Parker
's "Donna Lee," amid the fiery interplay of the steel drums, Mintzer's electric bass clarinet, and the drums and bass. This space-age bebop is contrasted beautifully as Thielemans joins in for Pastorius' elegant "Three Views of a Secret," the hard-swinging Latin and Caribbean rhythms in "Liberty City" (with gorgeous contrapuntal improvising by the whole band), and a sparsely adorned, romantic read of Duke Ellington
's "Sophisticated Lady." Disc one closes with a bumping Caribbean take on the harmonicist's standard "Bluesette."
The second disc opens with an absolutely cooking read of Bob Marley
's "I Shot the Sheriff," before a series of lengthy tunes bookended by heavy percussion workouts. "Okonkolé y Tompa" spends ten of its 15 minutes as an Alias solo before Jaco's bass and Clark's French horn join him, adding intimacy and tenderness. The glorious medley of "Reza/Giant Steps" -- a true set highlight -- displays Pastorius' canny arrangements, even as his lead guitar-like playing gets to shine. "Mr. Fonebone" brings back Toots with a joyous carnival-esque intro that leads into knotty post-bop. The extreme length of the "Bass and Drum Improvisation" will make hardcore fans of Erskine and Pastorius salivate, but for most, once or twice through will suffice. The finale is a Jaco evergreen: "Fannie Mae" is a hard-swinging blues shuffle that features his vocals and bass playing in call and response with Thielemans and Mintzer as the band wails.
Sure, Truth, Liberty & Soul
is for the Pastorius fanatics, but it's much more: this fantastically recorded document is a treasure trove of modern progressive jazz. The brilliant music found on it serves to underscore that Jaco was more than a brilliant, singular bassist (though that would have been enough); he was a great composer, arranger, and charismatic bandleader -- a true jazz renaissance man.