“My name is John Francis Pastorius III, and I am the greatest electric bass player in the world.”
– Jaco Pastorius
|Original Release:||Columbia PC 34099|
|Date Released:||March 1976|
Recorded 1975-1976 by Ron Malo at Devonshire Studios, North Hollywood, California.
|Josef Zawinul:||Two ARP 2600 synthesizers, Rhodes electric piano, Yamaha grand piano, Oberheim polyphonic synthesizer|
|Wayne Shorter:||Selmer Soprano and tenor saxophones, Computone Lyricon|
|Alphonso Johnson:||Fender electric bass, Charles La Boe electric bass|
|Chester Thompson:||Ludwig drums|
|Alejandro Acuña:||LP congas and percussion|
|Jaco Pastorius:||Fender bass (tracks 2 and 6)|
|Narada Michael Walden:||Drums (tracks 1 and 2)|
|Don Alias:||Congas and percussion (tracks 1 and 6)|
Changing personnel marked each of Weather Report’s first five albums, and Black Market carried forth that tradition, with Chester Thompson, Narada Michael Walden, Alex Acuña, and Jaco Pastorius all making their Weather Report recording debuts.
Asked about the changes in a March 1976 article, Zawinul said, “We’re always happy with the group, because if we’re not happy, we change it. There are a lot of musicians out there in the world. All the people who have played with us are great mother-fucking musicians. They have fantastic skills. But sometimes they’re going in one direction and we’re going in another one, so we have to make a change. Changing musicians gives us fresh blood, new ideas.” [PRM76]
In that article, Shorter and Zawinul said it didn’t really matter who played what–it was the end result that counted. “You can enjoy a symphony orchestra without knowing everybody’s name,” Shorter said. “You don’t have to know who the concertmaster is to know that the string section is incredible.” Zawinul added, “I’ve been playing our new album [Black Market] for some other musicians, and even some of them can’t always tell who’s playing what, or what instruments are being used at a given time. I like that. I like that a lot. Why should people know? We’re not a bunch of individual musicians. We’re a group.” [PRM76]
The personnel for Black Market took shape over the course of 1975, following the release of Weather Report’s previous album, Tale Spinnin’. Early in the year the problematic drum chair was filled by Thompson, who was recommended by Johnson. “Alphonso was in the band,” Thompson recalled, “and we had already played together in a couple of situations, and he urged me to come down and jam, so I guess it was kind of an informal audition, just free playing. And it was one of those bands that just clicked. I was not at all nervous. I knew they’d had several drummers in the year before. I had a large and pretty wide experience. I’d been interested in playing lots of different kinds of music. I’d been in experimental kinds of bands, and in technically demanding kinds of bands — [Frank] Zappa’s was the most technically demanding … I’d had a lot of chance to play jazz; by the time I was 15, I was playing in really good jazz groups. I played funk, too, probably an equal amount, having grown up in the ’60s, with early James Brown and Motown going on.” [IASW, p. 176]
Initially joining Johnson and Thompson was 25-year old percussionist Alyrio Lima, a holdover from the Tale Spinnin’ sessions. In October he was replaced by Alejandro (“Alex”) Acuña. Born in Lima, Peru, Acuña had been living in Las Vegas since 1973, playing with Elvis Pressley, Ann Margaret, and Ike and Tina Turner, among others. [TP77] Zawinul heard about him from Don Alias, Miroslav Vitous and Dave Leibman, and Zawinul hired him without an audition. “Joe came to Las Vegas,” Acuña recalled, “and he saw me, and he said, ‘Man, just by looking at you I can see you are a great player! Can you come over? We’re gonna do a tour in Europe, and everything you need, instruments, we’ll take it, and you come with the band.’ And I said, ‘Great, Fantastic!’ That’s how everything started. He never saw me play; he just saw me walking. Of course, he also had the recommendation of three great musicians.” [IASW, p. 177]
In a 2001 interview, Acuña described his first rehearsal with the band. “When I arrived at the studio they were playing great stuff, Joe, Chester Thompson, Alphonso Johnson. Wayne was writing music on a little table. For about 15 minutes I was just listening to how good they played, and later I went up and join them and played for another 15 minutes. It was great and it was real, too. After we finished playing, everybody came to say ‘hi’ and introduced themselves, and Wayne came to me and said, ‘Alejandro, if I were a percussionist I would play the way you play.’ I immediately began to understand the body language and the different way of communications that these giant musicians were displaying toward me — no ego but only truth and honesty about everything they were about.” [IFS01a]
With Thompson and Acuña in the fold, things fell into place. “To me, the best band during my time was with Chester Thompson and Alex Acuña,” Johnson recalled. “That band could play anywhere, any time, and just raise the roof.” [IASW, p. 178] Zawinul agreed. “Chester had just left Frank Zappa,” Zawinul recalled. “He was [a] helluva drummer for a certain kind of music and that suited us at that time and together with Al [Johnson] — Chester was from Baltimore and Al was from Philadelphia — they had a tight little thing going. Then we added Alex Acuña on percussion, who loosened that stuff up — Alex was also a great jazz drummer. I remember we were playing at the Bottom Line in New York and Miles Davis was sitting in the front row. When we finished Miles led a standing ovation, and that was really nice. Afterwards, all he was talking about was the band, it was really smokin’.” [JR, p. 173]
Zawinul and Shorter reminisced about the Johnson-Thompson band in 1978:
“This was a great period in a way, don’t you think so, Wayne?” Zawinul turns to his colleague. “We’d open for Earth, Wind & Fire, and it was a powerful, modern rhythm and blues band.”
Shorter sits up at the memory, jamming with fullbore enthusiasm. “Instead of going out on stage and getting through something and saying, ‘Hey, okay,’ because we knew we could do it the next day, for the first time I had that feeling. Like we’d jump out there — with the motors you got and everything — and you put that unh in the ignition and you unh in the car, and that thing just goes.” [BAM78]
With a year of touring under their belts, Weather Report went into the studio at the end of 1975 to record Black Market. “Everything on Black Market was done with a great deal of thought and care,” Shorter said in March 1976, just before the album was released. “There’s no such thing as a one-day recording session anymore. Making a record is almost as complicated as making a movie. But on the other hand, I don’t believe that there’s any loss of spontaneity working like that. We’ve been taught to separate things falsely. Spontaneity can be recaptured. It’s possible to slow it down, to control it. Just because you take care with the music doesn’t mean you have to lose the excitement. Anyway, while people are sitting and complaining because they’ve lost the spontaneity of the last moment, they’re losing the spontaneity of the next moment.” [PRM76]
Midway through the recording of Black Market the band took a break for the end-of-year holidays, and Alphonso Johnson announced that he would be leaving. “I knew that my time with Weather Report was coming to an end after we found Chester Thompson on drums,” Johnson recalled to Marco Piretti in 2000. “There was so much time and energy spent in my first year on finding a drummer that by the time Chester joined the band I was burned out. So when I heard that George Duke and Billy Cobham were putting together a new group I decided to check it out. The potential of playing with a fusion group that featured vocals intrigued me.” [IFS01c]
“Al Johnson had been on Mysterious Traveller, Tale Spinnin’, and part of Black Market when he told us he wanted to quit,” Zawinul recalled in 1984. “He wanted to form a band with George Duke where he was the co-leader, rather than just a sideman. We felt that everybody should do what they wanted to do, and by that time I had already met Jaco [Pastorius]. Jaco had sent me a tape of his band, and I was really impressed with the way he played; but I wasn’t sure if he could really play funk. [Drummer] Tony Williams had played with him, and assured us that Jaco could play anything. Jaco was a great Cannonball Adderley fan, and I had written a song called ‘Cannon Ball,’ so I said to myself, ‘it might be a good idea, just for the fun of it, to have Jaco play on that tune and audition him at the same time.’ We flew him in, he played on the tune, he wrote a song for Black Market, and the rest is history!” [KB84]
Jaco’s initial introduction to Joe Zawinul in Miami has been oft-told and is now part of the Jaco lore. It took place in Miami in either late 1974 or early 1975. Jaco told his version to BBC radio journalist Clive Williamson in a 1978 interview:
I had met Joe Zawinul a couple of years prior, when I was teaching at the University of Miami. I was writing for their big band and there was a Weather Report concert, and the University of Miami Big Band was the opening act. I played a couple of tunes with the band. Weather Report was late, and Zawinul didn’t hear me, their plane was late, but I came back later to get my equipment backstage, and, as I was leaving, I walked round the corner and literally bumped heads almost. He was being interviewed, and one said to him, “Hey, this is Jaco; this is the cat! You gotta hear this guy! This is the best bass player in the world!” Zawinul’s like, “Oh yeah?” you know? And he just said, “How can I hear what you do?” I had a cassette I’d made with a couple of friends, and my brother and I went down to the Holiday Inn on Miami beach the next day and played it for him, and he said he would hook up with me in the future. Then, during the Black Market album, which by that time was completely done, he got hold of me to play this tune, “Cannon Ball,” which didn’t have the right feel that he wanted. I don’t know for sure because we never talked about it, but because Cannonball was from Florida, and I’m from Florida, he said he’d wanted that Florida feel on this tune, and liked the way that I played the “singing” type sound. So I came and played that one tune and then he asked me to join the band. He asked me if I’d like to go on tour, and I said “Yeah,” like, give it a try, what the heck? But this was after I’d already done my solo album, and I was waiting for it to come out. It was always getting postponed because it was really pretty untogether, but then I joined Weather Report. [BBC78]
Zawinul told his version to an interviewer for a 2000 German television documentary (as translated to English by Thomas Kober):
We played in Miami — not a good concert, there was the situation. I wrote pieces that took two drummers, like “Nubian Sundance.” The beat was so difficult, one drummer couldn’t handle it because we played long — ten to twelve minutes in a very fast tempo for the drummer. The piece “Nubian Sundance” wasn’t fast, but the rhythm was in double time and needed two drummers. So I looked for a drummer who could possibly do that with Weather Report. Slide Hampton told me about a drummer who had played with him, and I don’t want to say his name. I flew him in from Europe to Miami just for auditioning, and that was the night we played in Miami, sold out.
But I was very angry because although the drummer was an African, I realized when he already was on the plane that he had been living in Switzerland for fifteen years. When I realized that an African was living in Switzerland for fifteen years, I knew that he can’t play it. That’s nothing against Switzerland, but there are certain elements in life, when someone adapts himself to, that’s the way you are. He came and at the first rehearsal, when he heard us playing, he was so nervous. He was trembling so much that the drumsticks dropped out of his hands. We spent a lot of money to fly him in, and of course we paid him. After the concert I went out and helped load our truck. There was kind of alleyway, and I helped our truck to drive out.
So I stood there with two ladies. One was a writer for the Miami Herald and the other woman was the promoter. I stood there, angry about the situation–not having a drummer, not having two drummers for the next show, and suddenly came this strange looking guy, stooped, totally strange, and he said to me, “Mr. Zawinul, I really like your music and my father was a great fan of Cannonball, and I’m a great fan of Cannonball.” “Really, what else?!,” I replied. “Oh yes, by the way, my name is John Francis Pastorius III and I’m the greatest bass player in the world.” And I don’t want to say this thing, but I said, “Get the fuck out of here.”
You know, I was really mad and I didn’t want to hear any idiot come to me and tell me all these things, you know. Normally when I say this to somebody he would just leave, but he just stayed there and looked at me, and I had to laugh because he was looking with such sad eyes, you know. And the newspaper lady elbowed me and said, “Listen, he is a little nuts but he’s a genius bass player.”
I said, “Listen, come to the hotel tomorrow and we’ll talk. Bring a tape or whatever.” The next day he stopped by, wearing glasses, totally nice and very good mannered, together with his brother Gregory, who is a great artist too, and he played for me what he brought with him, and it impressed me. But we had a super bassist, Alphonso Johnson, so there was no reason for me to make changes. However, every week he sent a letter to me, written as if it was printed. This person had handwriting which was phenomenal. He always wrote me what he was doing. One day he sent me a tape of “Donna Lee.” I listened to it and thought, “That’s impossible.” I called him and said, “Do you also play electric bass?” Because it really sounded like acoustic since he was playing fretless–he had such a natural sound on the electric bass. “Yes, yes”, and so we talked a little bit. After that there was nothing for a while, although he frequently sent letters. One day, Alphonso came to Wayne and me and said, “Listen, I will leave in two months to form a band with George Duke and Billy Cobham.” So we had to look for a bass player, and I auditioned lots of bass players. And once I met Tony Williams and Tony said to me, “Joe, you gotta check this guy out from Florida.” I said, “What is his name?” He said, “Jaco.” Then I said, “Yeah man, I know this guy, he’s been writing to me all the time and he sent me a tape. He can really play, can’t he?” He said, “You really gotta hear this guy.”
I was in Boston when Cannonball died in 1975. And that really hit me and the whole family. He was the witness at my wedding. He was a friend of the family. He bought the first bicycle for my son. You know, he was a family. I lived at his parents in Florida. It was a family thing. He died and that really knocked me out. Then I wrote the piece “Cannon Ball,” and I said, “Wayne, listen, I heard from this guy Jaco Pastorius, and he really has this confidence. He has this attitude like he is the greatest. We need somebody like him, you know.” And Wayne agreed with me. So for this particular tune, because he said how much he admired Cannonball and also his father, who was one of the best singers–his father was Tony Bennett’s favorite singer–Jack Pastorius, he still plays drums, stand up drums, he stands at the drums with the brushes and a hi hat and sings like a godfather, still–in a bar.
So I called him. “Come to Los Angeles. I don’t promise anything. Play on the record and we will see what’s going on.” We played “Cannon Ball.” There was an intro at the beginning, and I said, “Well, play something,” you know. He fiddled around somehow, I stopped the tape and said, “No, play that (?) [can't understand Zawinul]“, and that was on the record, that was his first recording which is the same like on the LP, and two, three pieces, I think it was two pieces that he contributed, “Barbary Coast,” and… another thing, he played incredibly well. Alphonso Johnson was also featured on some pieces and that was Black Market. It became one of our super records. [WDR]
Adding more richness to the encounter, Pat Metheny told Zawinul biographer Brian Glasser:
The funny thing with me is that, around the time Weather Report started, I was kind of a jazz purist. And this is somewhat ironic in retrospect–I was pretty much reactionary against anything having to do with electronics, or perhaps not so much electronics as rock–any kind of backbeat-oriented things. I didn’t want to know about that stuff; I just didn’t dig it that much. Jaco, too–Jaco hated that stuff! I remember when I’d try and play Weather Report records for Jaco, and he’d say, “Ah, I don’t want to hear that shit, man!” He hated it. It’s so ironic now we’re all grouped together in the ‘fusion’ bag. I remember being actually surprised, ’cause I was hanging out with him that same day he went up to Zawinul for the first time at that gig, and I was, like, “I thought you didn’t even dig him!” And he was, like, “Well, you know, he played with Miles.” So I thought, “Okay, whatever.” Because Jaco and I were the generation just after that ’60s thing. McLaughlin and all that, and in fact, as 19- and 20-year olds usually are, we were, like, “Ahh, man, fuck that shit! We’re gonna do our own thing.” [IASW, p. 191]
In 1977 Pastorius told a journalist that he hadn’t even heard Weather Report’s music prior to joining the band.
When my daughter was born [in 1970], that’s when I quit listening to music. I made up my mind, “I’m going to become a musician, and I’m going to get my stuff together.” I said: “I’m going to totally devastate everybody or I’m going to do something easy like cooking hamburgers or washing cars.”
The last record I bought was by Herbie Hancock, something like ’69 or ’70. So when Weather Report came out, I heard about them, but I never listened to them, because first of all I didn’t even have a record player. Second of all, I just didn’t have the time.
“Mercy Mercy” was one of my favorite tunes ever. Wayne Shorter, all the tunes he wrote for Miles, pure masterpieces. So here’s two of my big musical influences, and I didn’t even know what their band was up to until I joined it. I didn’t even know any of their tunes. I joined the band and I was reading the music, trying to learn it. [MM77]
Meanwhile, Chester Thompson’s return from the holidays was awkward, as he told David Negrin for his World Of Genesis web site:
Well, it was a strange thing that happened. Alphonso, during that that period, quit the band. I was visiting Baltimore, for Christmas. … This all happened over Christmas break. We had been recording. When I came back from the Christmas break, I didn’t know that Alphonso had quit. It was a case of assumptions… and you know what they say about the word “assume!” In this case, I think it might have proven true (laughs). I got back, and I called Wayne to let him know I was back in town and find out what the recording schedule was. I got a very strange phone call back from him saying, “You don’t need to show up.” And I was like, “What?!” It just sounded very odd. So, I couldn’t reach Wayne, so I called Joe, and I guess in the meantime, since Alphonso had left they had hired Jaco.
Alphonso and I were really close friends, so I guess Wayne and Joe had a similar situation before they started Weather Report, where they had been playing in a couple of different jazz groups and just decided to join forces and start Weather Report. They assumed that Alphonso and I were doing the same thing. When in actual fact, I didn’t even know Alphonso had left and he actually had a recording contract of his own, which had nothing to do with me (laughs). So, at that point, we spoke and they said, “Aren’t you leaving to play with Alphonso?” And I said, “I didn’t even know he was leaving… I didn’t know anything about this!”
Well, in the meantime, having hired Jaco, assuming that I was leaving, they asked Jaco, “What drummer are you comfortable with?” And he recommended Narrada [sic] Michael Walden. So, by the time I talked to Joe, I was like, “What’s the deal? Am I out of the band or what? I haven’t quit, but if I’m out of the band, ok.” That put a different light on it, so suddenly it was like, “No, you’re not out of the band.” So, I said, “If that’s the case, it’s been Christmas, and I’ve been home buying gifts for my family; I need to work (laughs)!” So, I ended up going down to play percussion with Alex (Acuña) on a couple of tracks while Narrada was playing drums. They had used different drummers on albums before, and they said I was in the band, so I didn’t feel threatened. If he’s playing a couple of cuts, good! I didn’t have a problem with that. Of course, when I got there, Narrada saw me and said, “What are you doing here? (Laughs)” He said, “I was told I got the gig.” I said, “Oh you were, were you?!”
In the end, I guess they really didn’t like his playing as much as they thought, so I finished out the album. He played on a track and a half. I guess he played on one called “Cannon Ball” and on the album, he’s credited as playing on the song “Black Market” but, in fact, there were two different recording sessions. The first half is myself. Next time you happen to listen to it, in the middle of the song it switches from a straight 8 feel to a swing feel, the sound also changes… That’s actually a different day of recording that they spliced in (laughs). The first half is with me and the second half is with Narrada, but they gave him the credit for it.
Unfortunately, at that point, the vibes were just all gone. It’s very much a vibe band, and we were trying to make light of it, but in actual fact, the damage was done. It was never the same… And playing with Jaco was EXTREMELY different from playing with Alphonso. So, at that point, we just kind of mutually agreed to just back-out, and Alex switched over to the drum chair. [WOG02]
Indeed, Black Market would be Thompson’s Weather Report swan song. His next stop would be the band Genesis, for whom he cut several records and toured with for several years. Further details of Thompson’s departure from Weather Report are on Heavy Weather page.
The personnel listings below are based on the original LP liner notes, which indicate on which tracks Johnson, Pastorius, Walden and Alias play. These notes do not indicate the absence of Thompson or Acuña on any tracks, so it is assumed they participated in them all.
1. Black Market (Zawinul) 6:30
Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Johnson, Thompson, Acuña, Walden, Alias
In his liner notes for Live & Unreleased, Alan Leeds wrote: “Asked what single song best represented all that Weather Report meant to him, Zawinul quickly answered ‘Black Market.’” [LAU02]
Zawinul has spoken often of the inverted keyboard that he played on “Black Market.” It was made possible by a feature on the ARP 2600 that allowed inverting the keyboard voltage so that the upper portion of the keyboard played the lower sounds and vice versa. Len Lyons, in a 1977 Keyboard magazine interview, asked Zawinul why he experimented with it:
Because it was a challenge for me to play in a mirrored system. It’s good for the mind. If you improvise on chords, for example, you’ve got to transpose, and your mind has to be very, very fast. I was recording one day at home on the inverted setup, and that’s when the song “Black Market” was put together. After listening to it, I played the melodies on the straight keyboard, and it didn’t sound as good as it did the mirrored way. Then I had to write the melody down and relearn it on the inverted keyboard, because at first it was improvised. On-stage, I play the first melody of the song with the right hand on the inverted keyboard, and the left hand accompanies on the Rhodes until after the first six notes into the bridge. Then the right hand plays the contrapuntal chord voicings on the polyphonic [Oberheim] synthesizer. The left hand continues the melody where the right hand stopped, putting a chord or two on the Rhodes into the spaces. It takes a little while to get used to thinking in the mirrored system. Only C and F# are the same as on the straight keyboard. B becomes C#, Bb becomes D, A becomes Eb, and so on. I also play chords on the bridge of “Black Market” on the Oberheim. The chord is going upwards and the melody is going downwards–in contrary motion. It’s beautiful to challenge yourself visually. It makes you play new things. [KB77b]
Zawinul explained to Conrad Silvert that “when you change keys and play it with the left hand, it’s very difficult. But it changes the rhythmic and melodic feeling of the music, like a mirror image. it’s almost like going into the fourth dimension, like being on both sides of that wall simultaneously.” [DB78b]
In terms of the character of the sound Zawinul achieved on “Black Market,” Lyons asked him if there were sounds he could only get with a particular instrument. “Yes,” Zawinul replied. “The sound on ‘Black Market’ is one I can only get on the ARP, not because of the reversed voltages, but because of a certain twang that only the ARP has. If you check out the melody of ‘Black Market,’ you’ll hear something unique, something you can’t really recognize.” Zawinul went on to say, “I try to stay away from electronic sounds and go for natural sounds instead. They don’t have to be known natural sounds. On ‘Black Market,’ for example, the sound isn’t one that’s known–you wouldn’t recognize it as anything else–but it is acoustic. It sounds like some kind of native instrument.” [KB77b] In 1984 he explained, “On ‘Black Market’ the melody I played was totally different, and it was hip. The filter moves through it another way and you get those different shadows and shades. It takes a lot of thinking.” [DB84]
In other interviews Zawinul has said the sound of “Black Market” goes back to his accordion-playing childhood. “When I came up [as a child] and played the accordion, I immediately started playing with the instrument. I took the soundboard off and glued felt into it. I got the sound of ‘Black Market.’ I did the same thing on the bass side, where the buttons are and then I reversed the whole thing, to get the melodies with the bass notes. Imagination had limits in the older days. Now it doesn’t.” [DB88] And, “With the accordion you have these different registers that change the sound continuously. I took pieces of felt and covered the sound holes and glued it in different ways to give it a nasal sound. It’s like filtering, and it’s the same as the first ARP sounds I had, you know, these little woodwind sounds.” [DB84]
Regarding the voices heard at the beginning of “Black Market,” Alex Acuña explained their origin to Zawinul biographer Brian Glasser. “The song ‘Black Market,’ at the start there’s the sound of many people talking, like a market. Joe copied that from a tape of mine. I had that tape playing in my room when we were in adjoining rooms on tour, and he came in and said, ‘Hey, Alex, let me hear that!’ Then he borrowed the tape, and it’s now ‘Black Market.’ That’s a tape that I made in my house with my family, live. I was listening to music and I was recording music, and my family and children were in the background–that’s there voices. He never told me that, but I knew it because I can recognize it.” [IASW, p. 179]
Both Chester Thompson and Narada Michael Walden performed on “Black Market.” “On the first song on the album there are two drummers from two different days,” Thompson told Glasser. “If you listen carefully, the sound completely changes in the middle, where the music changes. The feel goes from straight-eight to a sort of swing feel. Most people don’t catch it at first, though once you hear it it’s so obvious it’s quite funny.” Walden told Glasser: “It starts out with Chester, then there’s a hard edit onto me when the song changes and switches gears all of a sudden. I play on from there through the whole jam, just smokin’. Wayne’s solo was cut live. I played on the whole song, but I think he wanted to keep the opening with Chester because it was so relaxed. Then he wanted a big shot of fire when he cut me in. We maybe played it two or three times. It wasn’t too many times, because the fire was so hot. It was hot, man! I was surprised when it came out they didn’t use the whole version I cut, but I think it’s brilliant the way he did it. I think it’s right.” [IASW, p. 180]
Years later Shorter described Walden this way: “Narada’s groove was very natural. He had a sunny presence. Sun emanated from his rhythmic self. His rhythmic accompaniment was uplifting, never going down into the floor. It just flowed out of him, and he would take the heavy edge off anything that had a low sound. Low sounds can slow things down. Michael’s drum beat would add transparency.” [MD03]
2. Cannon Ball (Zawinul) 4:35
Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Pastorius, Thompson, Acuña, Walden
A tribute to Zawinul’s former boss, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, who died on August 8, 1975. Zawinul and Shorter arranged for Jaco to come to Los Angeles specifically for this recording. It was a kind of audition. In Bill Milkowski’s Jaco biography, Zawinul explained, “Cannonball was from Florida too, and I wanted that Florida sound on this particular track. Plus, I remembered how much Jaco loved Cannonball’s music, so I figured he might be the right guy to use. We brought him in, and that was more or less his audition. Wayne and I talked it over, and we both agreed that this kid could play.” [Jaco]
Narada Michael Walden recalled the recording of “Cannon Ball” to Brian Glasser: “Jaco was trying to impress Joe in the rehearsal of the song. He learned the song so quickly, and he was adding all these things, and then Joe stopped right in the middle and said, ‘Don’t play all that shit on my song.’ And I saw the look on Jaco’s face–like, whoah, man!–because nobody ever talks to Jaco like that. But Joe was fearless. Jaco had no more than plugged in, learned the song, and half an hour later Joe was in his ass! And I don’t mean easy. I mean, ‘Don’t you play that fuckin’ shit on my song!’ Jaco was auditioning for the guy; it really shocked him. It just changed the whole mood of the song. It just made Jaco… whatever he did play, he really meant it, as opposed to playing because he could. That’s why the song is so tender, because Joe said, ‘You gotta understand, this song is for Cannonball. I’m either going to call it “Cannon Ball” or “Empty Chair”…’” [IASW, p. 187-188]
Of course, Jaco’s bass sound is one of the signature characteristics of “Cannon Ball.” Clive Williamson asked Jaco whether he got that “incredible singing bass sound” on an ordinary guitar, or through the use of special effects. “I don’t use anything special,” Jaco replied. “I’ve actually got less on it! I have a fretless bass, so it’s virtually like I’m playing a wood bass. In other words, the strings go into the wood on the neck and then–being that it’s a bass guitar–it gets that bright, direct sound. So I’m the first guy to be using a fretless, is actually what it boils down to, and then more, because I’m the first to really get down and play it, because other guys cannot play it in tune, y’know? I’ve been playing the bass guitar for almost 12 years, and I’ve been playing fretless for about nine, so I’ve got quite a bit of mileage in my hands already. I play in tune like a cello player, and use legitimate vibrato. There are no tricks… it’s just all in the hands! I just have a standard 1962–I think it is–Fender Jazz bass, that I took the frets out of.” [BBC78]
Williamson asked Jaco what amplifier he used. “In the studio I don’t use an amp, I just go direct, right into the desk. It’s virtually acoustic is what I’m doing, you see? And then on stage I use an old Acoustic 360–two of those amps, actually–and you get into all sorts of fun! It’s a whole different thing on stage… (laughs) Are you comin’ to the show tonight? (smiles) You should really come along, because it’s some other stuff completely (laughs). This is some real fun!” [BBC78]
Neil Tesser’s 1977 Down Beat article described Jaco’s technique on fretless this way:
“It sings,” says Jaco in explaining the preference for the fretless instrument. “I’ve been playing it for about six years. It’s all in the hands; in order to get that sound, you have to know exactly where to touch the strings, exactly how much pressure to apply. You have to learn to feel it. And then it just sings.” Jaco’s sound has come to embody a sometimes bewildering array of chord clusters, nearly tangible overtone qualities, swift improvisatory lines that retain a surprising tonal depth and a penchant for using the instrument’s harmonics in both melodic and percussive senses. Quite simply, never has so catholic an imagination been applied to the bass guitar. Still, there is one added dimension to Jaco’s musical persona, as it is conveyed through the bass guitar: Its uncanny ability to sound, in its sonorous tonality and innovative phrasing, as much like an acoustic bass fiddle as it does a guitar. The nature of the instrument is not always clear to even the most experienced listeners. When Weather Report’s Joe Zawinul first heard a tape of “Continuum”, which appears on Jaco’s [first] album, he drank in the velvety richness of Jaco’s bass lead, then turned to the young musician and asked him if he also played the bass guitar. Which, of course, was what Joe had been listening to. Jaco himself can present the clearest analysis of his technique: “I felt that I had never heard anyone clearly outline a tune on the bass. Maybe someone has done it before, I don’t know because I don’t listen to that many records, but I had never heard it before. I had never heard someone take a tune like ‘Donna Lee,’ and play it on the bass without a piano player so that you always could hear the changes as well as the melody. It’s a question of learning to reflect the original chord in just the line. Players like Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Ira Sullivan can do that. I wanted to be able to do it, too.” [DB77a]
3. Gibraltar (Zawinul) 7:45
Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Johnson, Thompson, Acuña
“This is my improvisation from beginning to end,” Zawinul told Milkowski in 2002. “It was one of those things I put together and then I wrote it out for the band and we played it—as simple as that.” [JTW02]
In In A Silent Way, Thompson recalls being “thrown” by the “detail of the charts.” “Everything was charted for stuff like ‘Gibralter,’ which made it quite difficult to read, because it wasn’t the typical kind of thing.” On the other hand, the drum parts weren’t notated, but were communicated verbally. [IASW, p. 180]
According to Stuart Nicholson’s book Jazz-Rock: A History, “Gibralter” was originally slated to open the album. [JR]
4. Elegant People (Shorter) 5:02
Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Johnson, Thompson, Acuña
Shorter has offered a couple of different takes on the meaning of this song’s title. In the liner notes for Live & Unreleased, Shorter explained the meaning of “Elegant People” as, “That state of living where one can say, with no regrets, ‘I reached the point of pride and elegance of being a human being.’ It’s so elegant to be a human being–elegant meaning good fortune. We are very fortunate to be born as human beings. So if we realize that fortune, why not strive to be the most elegant in everything we do?” [LAU02]
In an interview published the same year as Live & Unreleased he said, “That tune was a way of saying, ‘Isn’t it nice to have all this Latin music? And as it moves from one place to another, nobody’s given up their roots.’ Tito Puente had that modern feel of playing two things that became seamless; Dizzy Gillespie too. I don’t care where it comes from—-Brazil, Cuba, from coast to coast, in the favelas and all that. For me it’s ‘Who’s contributing to the future? What’s next after the bossa nova, or the samba? Who’s taking the chances?’ I guess that was what they were trying to quell and squash back in the ’60s, when those dictatorships were at their worst, throwing journalists in jail and a lot of musicians too.” [JT02]
Alex Acuña told Glasser, “You recall the song ‘Elegant People?’ [Wayne] wrote that because of the way I play. He didn’t tell me that, but I knew it, because he is like a tailor–he makes the suit to fit the person. So it was because I was in the band. Then, okay, now we can really feel this groove! You can see in that tune the way the percussion is applied.” [IASW, p. 177-178]
Chester Thompson: “‘Elegant People’ was absolutely written out, but once you learned it, that was it–you’d never see a chart again. You basically learned the songs and then did them. They were very well aware of not over-rehearsing. I don’t think anything more than a couple of takes–maybe three or four on something. Spontaneity was crucial. Afterwards, Joe would certainly get in there and do all sorts of things, putting in extra synths or editing or whatever.” [IASW, p. 180]
5. Three Clowns (Shorter) 3:14
Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Johnson, Thompson, Acuña
Wayne explains the title: “A lot of people get their due, their just desserts — actually many get something even better — and the clowns, well, it’s almost like comedian Red Buttons used to say: ‘Nobody entertains the entertainer.’ This song was a forlorn melody about the idea that there’s nobody around who’s going to entertain the entertainer.” [FT, page 56]
So far as I know, Black Market is the only album on which Wayne Shorter played the Lyricon, and it may well be the only time he ever recorded with the instrument. “Three Clowns” is a good example of its use in Shorter’s hands. The Lyricon was developed in the early 1970s by Roger Noble and Bill Bernardi of Computone Inc., and was in essence a synthesizer for wind players. It consisted of a saxophone-like controller with an analog synthesizer module. The controller resembled a soprano saxophone, with a bass clarinet mouthpiece, a sensor on the reed to detect pressure, and a saxophone-style fingering system. The synthesizer had two oscillators with a choice of square and sawtooth waves, a voltage-controlled filter and low frequency oscillator, but no envelope generator, since this was controlled by wind pressure and embrouchure. The Lyricon was capable of very expressive sounds, but like other synthesizers of the time, there was no way to save the settings for a particular sound.
Regarding Wayne’s playing on the Lyricon, Joe once recalled, “What I like about this album is that Wayne played this [electric wind instrument], the Lyricon. I loved the way he played the Lyricon because it allowed him to get away from his usual sound. I wish more saxophone players would do things like that more. Because Wayne had a personality on any instrument. If you have personality it doesn’t matter what you play anyhow. If you don’t, there ain’t no synthesizer in the world gonna help you or not any acoustic instrument either. It won’t help you if you don’t have it. But Wayne had it then with this Lyricon, and he could play some really deep bass lines with me on that thing.” [JTW02]
“Three Clowns” and the subsequent track “Barbary Coast” were the subject of a Down Beat blindfold test in which bassist Steve Swallow was asked to comment about the tunes without being told what was being played. Of “Three Clowns” he said:
Five stars! We’ve begun well. Wayne Shorter with Weather Report. He’s my favorite jazz composer (whatever that is), and this is one of his strongest pieces, a beautiful haunting melody. Wayne not only composes before the fact, he composes as he plays, so the writing and playing are inseparable. Joe Zawinul is cunning as usual with synthesizer; I don’t know anyone who can make those instruments sound as warm, or get greater range and flexibility. I always take this tune on tape with me on the road. In Wayne’s hands, I don’t mind the sound of the Lyricon. [DB81a]
6. Barbary Coast (Pastorius) 3:05
Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Pastorius, Thompson, Acuña, Alias
Jaco’s first composition recorded by Weather Report. “At first, I didn’t like that tune so much,” Zawinul told Pastorius biographer Milkowski. “It sounded too much like a Horace Silver line to me. But then we worked a little bit with it and got a nice groove happening. And, of course, that became a kind of signature piece for Jaco.” Milkowski explained the significance of the opening sound of a train roaring along the tracks: “This sound is much more than atmospheric filler; it resonates with deep meaning for anyone who grew up in Fort Lauderdale near the tracks that run alongside Dixie Highway. As a kid, Jaco would often wander along those tracks for miles, dreaming of places he might visit one day. Ironically, those same tracks run past the Kalis Funeral Home in Fort Lauderdale, the site of Jaco’s wake on September 24, 1987.” [Jaco]
Steve Swallow’s blindfold test comments about “Barbary Coast:”
This was Jaco’s premiere with the band; Alphonso is on some tracks. He makes a dramatic entrance with one of his stock-in-trade grooves, one he’d perhaps been comfortable playing in Miami. He’s made a great difference in the band, and I like him on the new one [Night Passage] best of all. [DB81a]
7. Hernandu (Johnson) 6:35
Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Johnson, Thompson, Acuña
In 2002, Zawinul offered a succinct description of “Hernandu” to Bill Milkowski: “A great fucking tune by Alphonso Johnson in 11/4 time that I did some further orchestrating on. This tune I really like.” [JTW02]
Johnson told Glasser, “I brought that song in. It’s an odd meter–it’s in eleven–and again, with that one they only kept two parts of the song. They kept it in an odd meter, and the intro line was a melody I’d brought in, but Joe expanded it using synth voicings in his Zawinul kind of way, which made it really unique. Again, I’m totally happy with the way it turned out.” [IASW, p. 181]
As to the title, Johnson told Glasser, “We were on a tour in Europe–Copenhagen, I think–and I walked into this clothing store and it was called Herandnu. I asked what it meant, and they said, ‘Here and now.’ And what impressed me about this store was that downstairs they had a little corner set aside for kids, so that while Mom shopped they could play, which is fashionable now but back then was really progressive thinking!” [IASW, p. 181]
(8). Portrait Of Tracy [Live] (Pastorius) 5:57
This live version of “Portrait Of Tracy” was recorded November 30, 1977 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was originally released in 2002 on Live and Unreleased, and is included on the version of Black Market that is part of the 2012 boxed set Weather Report The Columbia Albums 1976-1982.
(9). Elegant People [Live] (Shorter) 4:28
Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Pastorius, Acuña, Manolo Badrena
This live version of “Elegant People” was recorded November 30, 1977 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was originally released in 2002 on Live and Unreleased, and is included on the version of Black Market that is part of the 2012 boxed set Weather Report The Columbia Albums 1976-1982.
(10). Black Market [Live] (Zawinul) 9:28
Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Pastorius, Peter Erskine
This live version of “Black Market” was recorded March 2, 1979 at the Karl Marx Theatre, Havana, Cuba, as part of the three-day “Havana Jam.” It is included on the version of Black Market that is part of the 2012 boxed set Weather Report The Columbia Albums 1976-1982.
– Ray Townley, Down Beat, July 15, 1976
– Max Bell, New Musical Express, 1976
– Elaine Guregian, Down Beat, September 1989
– Brian Glasser, In A Silent Way, 2000
Jazz Album of the Year, 41st Annual Down Beat Readers Poll
Jazz Group of the Year, 41st Annual Down Beat Readers Poll
Billboard chart peak: Jazz Albums, 2; R&B Albums, 20; Top 200 Albums, 42.