CD Review: Jaco Pastorius "Modern American Music … Period! The Criteria Sessions"

June 26, 2014
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Among the many positives of the coordinated effort to create the highly anticipated Jaco documentary (premiere date still unknown) is this historic, unexpected 11-track CD that fills in more pieces of the Pastorius puzzle. While gathering material for the film, the Pastorius family unearthed an acetate of a March 1974 after-hours session at Miami’s famed Critieria Studios. A 22-year-old Jaco, keyboardist Alex Darqui, drummer Bobby Economou, percussionist Don Alias, and steel-pans players Othello Molineaux and Sir Cederik Lucious cut songs that would emerge on Jaco’s landmark self-titled solo album, recorded a year-and-a-half later and released in 1976. The sound of Jaco’s fretless ’62 Jazz “Bass of Doom” on the acetate is deeper, rounder, woodier, and less trebly than we’re used to on Jaco Pastorius. This is especially apparent on the striking opening track, “Donna Lee”—which, recorded solo, with no Alias percussion part, magnifies Jaco’s remarkable sense of time, swing, and intonation. While it’s fascinating to hear the subtle differences in Jaco’s phrasing of the melody between the two versions (discernable despite the dissimilar tones), it’s indeed revealing to hear him play the same solo for the first chorus plus six measures, finish the second chorus differently, and come back to play the head down two whole-steps, as we’re accustomed to.

Equally revealing is “Havona/Continuum” and “Continuum.” On the former, Jaco has the last-minute idea to combine “Havona”— which Jaco producer Bobby Colomby rejected for the album (only to have it turn up on Weather Report’s immortal Heavy Weather disc)—with “Continuum.” Here, “Havona” is a medium bossa with a probing, exploratory bass line and solo that increasingly hints at the double-time feel and the melodic cohesiveness of the Weather Report version. The band goes into “Continuum” with the same loose, experimental vibe. By contrast, “Continuum” by itself is closer to the Jaco version: a bit brighter, with the bass melody featured over swirling Rhodes and percussion colors, and a busier solo that captures the raw energy buzzing throughout the session. “Kuru” finds Jaco and Darqui playing the ascending opening line later assigned to strings on Jaco. It’s cool to hear Jaco start on one boogie pattern for much of the keyboard solo and then suddenly shift to the one with which we’re familiar.

Elsewhere, two takes of “Balloon Song,” Jaco’s 12-tone straightahead tune (you can hear later versions on several compilations) are compelling, with Jaco taking long, unbridled solos that quote Ornette Coleman’s “Broadway Blues,” his own “Portrait of Tracy,” and his intro on “Dry Cleaner from Des Moines.” Two takes of the never-released “Time Lapse” are notable for the unit’s free-form stretching and Jaco’s blinding, inexhaustible 16th-note boogie— in the quarter-note = 190 bpm range! Similarly, “Pans #1” and “Opus Pocus (Pans #2)” resemble jams more than the haunting-themed swamp-funk version of the latter on Jaco. Closing out the package—which will also be available in multi-colored LP form, with liner notes by Robert Trujillo and Bill Milkowski, as well as rare photos—is Jaco’s Rhodes performance of “Forgotten Love.” Unlike the Herbie Hancock-grand-piano-with-strings take on Jaco, this version accentuates the mystery and solitude of Jaco’s dense chord changes—fitting for a young artist unknown at the time, but on the verge of changing bass and music forever.

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