I Sing The Body Electric

I Sing The Body Electric

“No one solos, everyone solos.”
– Joe Zawinul

Track Listing

Side One

1. Unknown Soldier (Zawinul) 7:57
2. The Moors (Shorter) 4:49
3. Crystal (Vitous) 7:23
4. Second Sunday In August (Zawinul) 4:04

Side Two

5. Medley: Vertical Invader/T.H./Dr. Honoris Causa (Zawinul/Vitous) 10:45
6. Surucucú (Shorter) 7:46
7. Directions (Zawinul) 4:37

Bonus Tracks

(8.) Directions, Take 1 (Zawinul) 5:29

Credits

Original Release: Columbia KC 31352
Date Released: May 26, 1972
Produced by: Shoviza Productions, Inc.
Executive Producer: Robert Devere
Time: 46:28

Tracks 1 and 2 recorded November 1971 by Wayne Tarnowski and mixed by Wayne Tarnowski and Don Meehan at Columbia Studios, NYC.

Tracks 3 and 4 recorded January 1972 by Wayne Tarnowski and mixed by Wayne Tarnowski and Don Meehan at Columbia Studios, NYC.

Tracks 5-7 recorded January 13, 1972 by Susumu Satoh at Shibuya Philharmonic Hall, Tokyo, Japan.

Personnel

Josef Zawinul: Electric and acoustic piano, ARP 2600 synthesizer
Wayne Shorter: Reeds
Miroslav Vitous: Bass
Eric Grávátt: Drums
Dom Um Romão: Percussion
Andrew White: English horn
Hubert Laws, Jr.: Flute
Wilmer Wise: D and piccolo trumpet
Ralph Towner: 12-string guitar
Yolande Bavan: Voice
Joshie Armstrong: Voice
Chapman Roberts: Voice
Roger Powell: Consultant

Overview

After recording its first album, Weather Report picked up two new members: percussionist Don Um Romão and drummer Eric Grávátt.

Dom Um Romão joined when the band toured Europe in June 1971. Zawinul had hoped to get Airto, who played on the first album, but Airto declined, having already committed himself to Miles Davis. Instead, he recommended Romão. In Brian Glasser’s Zawinul biography, In A Silent Way, Airto explained, “Flora [Purim, Airto's wife] and I called Dom Um Romão in Miami, who’d played in Brazil ’66, and asked him whether he wanted to play with the group. He said, ‘Well…yeah.’ He drove from Miami to New York, and I gave him part of my percussion to let him do the gig. He rehearsed and they liked it, and took him to Europe on the first Weather Report tour with my percussion, because he was a drummer then. I mean he could play percussion, but he didn’t have the stuff–it was still in Brazil.” [IASW, p. 138]

Zawinul told Melody Maker in 1972: “[Dom Um Romão] just came by one day and all of a sudden he just clicked. We hadn’t even thought of him before–and he was [one] of Airto’s teachers.” [MM72] “I wasn’t given any instructions,” Romão recalled to Glasser. “Zawinul often used to tell people what to do, but never me. I didn’t tell him how to play piano either! I’d just listen, then fit in. We did lots of rehearsing–everyone wanted it to be as good as possible.” [IASW, p. 139]

Eric Grávátt replaced Alphonse Mouzon later in 1971, after the European tour was completed. In a 1978 interview, Zawinul said that after Weather Report’s first European tour in 1971, “Mouzon freaked out–musically he was there, but his other shit was not together. So we got Eric Grávátt and that was the second band. We went to Japan, to South America and stayed together a while.” [DB78b] Ironically, Mouzon subsequently joined McCoy Tyner’s band, which had just lost Grávátt to Weather Report. “I liked the free-spirit kind of playing with McCoy,” Mouzon said years later. “I could do what I wanted, he didn’t tell me what to play, and we were doing this very creative music.” [LAT91]

I Sing The Body Electric Press PhotoFrom a Columbia Records promotional kit showing the band members. Miroslav Vitous’ last name is misspelled “Vitouf.”

A 1975 profile in Down Beat magazine said Grávátt started playing the congas at the age of 8, and didn’t start studying the drum set until he was 16. He used one of the smallest sets among modern drummers–four drums, including a snare, floor and high tom-tom, a single-headed bass; and three cymbals, a ride, crash and sock. He played with McCoy Tyner for about a year before joining Weather Report. The profile’s author, Bob Protzman, described him as “a 20th century Renaissance man with many interests and abilities, high intelligence, a keen wit; a deep man with a lot to say and a knack for saying it well; a man of humility but not false modesty; a man who puts himself and his music in perspective.” [DB75b]

According to a 1972 article in Melody Maker, Shorter hadn’t heard Grávátt play at all before he was brought in, but Vitous liked his playing a lot. “Eric’s one of those rare individuals with feeling and intelligence,” Zawinul said in the article, “and it’s even rarer to find those qualities in a drummer. When you start looking, you can count on one hand the drummers who can stay on top of it like he does.” [MM72] Years later Zawinul called him “a genius.” “From the jazz side, he was my favorite [drummer] of them all.” [DB01]

“Eric was the one,” Shorter recalled years later. “Miles wanted him, but he came with us in Weather Report. Eric is teaching now, and he is still explosive when he speaks. He had bounce in his rhythm that would bounce off the floor and carry the music up to the ceiling. He had this ethnic sound–the continent of Africa–but with grace. He has a dignity and the flavor of Africa, and of metropolitan cities, all with the element of surprise.”[MD03]

Journalist Sy Johnson recalled hearing the “second band” live, remarking that the first record “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.” [Jazz77]

In November 1971 Weather Report went into the studio to record the tracks that make up side one of I Sing. In January they played to sold out, enthusiastic audiences in Japan. “The audiences over there are hungrier for real good music. They can hear,” Zawinul told David Rensin of Rolling Stone in 1973. “Our first album wasn’t out but four months and when we arrived at Tokyo airport there were hundreds of people waiting to greet us. I still love American audiences, but it takes a little longer to gain acceptance over here.” [RS73]

Expanding on this in Glasser’s book, Zawinul said, “When we went to Japan 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]

The January 13 concert at the Shibuya Philharmonic Hall in Tokyo was recorded by Columbia, producing the second side of I Sing, as well as a double-album, Live in Tokyo, that was restricted to Japanese release. Live in Toyko presents the material as five lengthy medleys, whereas I Sing includes portions of those medleys in edited form.

Contrasting Weather Report’s first two albums in a 1996 interview, Zawinul said, “To me, the first album was three guys meet each other, and everybody is careful, make sure they don’t step on no one–three good musicians with a talent for improvising play together–but to me that was searching, and I am not a searcher. Because when I improvise I’ve found it! On the second album there was more structure. Melodies had shorter motifs, a lot of it sounded improvised, but it was written to sound that way.” [JR, p. 166-167]

Shorter put it this way: “The first album sort of says, ‘Weather Report Presents…’ That’s so we could have something else to reach for. We didn’t want them all to sound the same either. The second one was broader. The first one had, essentially speaking, short statements, almost staccato-like light. It’s something like grammar, you think you’ve got a new language, it comes in short, simple, basic sentences. And the second one, you put in, what’s that, conjunctions and everything. The vocabulary gets larger.” [DB74a]

Side One

1. Unknown Soldier (Zawinul) 7:57

Journalist Conrad Silvert described “Unknown Soldier” as “one of Zawinul’s most complex early compositions… It is nearly symphonic in scope, an emotional evocation of bombardment and its aftermath.” Zawinul told Silvert, “In 1945 my cousin and I buried two German soldiers who had been dead a long time, in very bad shape. One guy was rolled over by a tank. We opened their uniforms to break off their name tags, but on one of them there wasn’t any tag. It’s that same old concept of the unknown soldier. That’s what I thought when I wrote this, with the prayers in there–it’s partially a recall of that night I told you about, September 10, 1944, when Vienna was burning, people were crying, buried underneath the ruins.” [DB78b]

Zawinul recounted the story again in 1981: “I was not only aware of ‘the unknown soldier,’ that famous saying, but I was once burying two German solders, very messed up, one was rolled over by a tank. They all had tags on for identification, and when you found one you snapped half of it off and sent it in. Neither of those guys had it on. The song only happened later on–I mean, it takes years. Then it was an everyday thing. But it got me into the idea of how many people in the world died for actually nothing, and nobody knows what ever happened. It’s a nostalgic kind of thing.” [IM81] He later expanded and orchestrated this composition for his 1995 symphony, Stories of the Danube.

ARP 2600 synthesizer.

To my knowledge, “Unknown Soldier” marked Zawinul’s first use of a synthesizer on a recording. It was the ARP 2600, which he used on “Unknown Soldier” to produce sound effects. The ARP Instrument Company was founded by Alan R. Pearlman in 1969, and in 1970 the company unveiled its first instrument, the ARP 2500–a rather complex-looking, multi-box modular, analog synthesizer. The second product, the ARP 2600 was in some sense a simplification of the 2500, consisting of a fixed set of basic synthesizer modules packaged in a single box, with a separate keyboard, both of which were packaged in vinyl-covered luggage-style cases. The unique thing about the 2600 was that its modules were pre-connected in a standard way at the factory, allowing a user to get started easily. But those connections could be added to or overridden by patch chords. It was a highly regarded synthesizer in its time, remaining in production until 1981, and is now considered a classic of its era. Zawinul ultimately acquired two 2600s. [VS, p. 116]

Roger Powell, who is credited as a “consultant” on I Sing, worked for ARP in the early 1970s, and in 1971 he toured the United States putting on demos and talking to musicians and dealers. He later played keyboards for Todd Rungren and Utopia, and now makes his living as a software engineer. In Mark Vail’s book Vintage Synthesizers, Powell recalls Zawinul’s initial experience with the 2600: “Joe came up to Boston to play at the Jazz Workshop. I met him and showed him the 2600. It took him a little time to pick up on some of its features. For instance, the 2600 lets you route the output either through the VCA [voltage-controlled amplifier] or directly from the VCF [Voltage-Controlled Filter]. If the output came from the VCF, the sound would always be on. After Joe had the instrument for a week or so, he called and said, ‘Hey, man, the sound is fantastic. Now tell me, how do you make it stop?’ But he kept at it, and became one of the 2600′s leading musical innovators. Eventually he had two 2600s, one of which was controlled by ARP’s model 1601 16-step analog sequencer.” [VS, pp. 117, 120]

It took a while for Zawinul to incorporate the 2600s into his live set-up. In 1984 Zawinul recalled, “On that live record [the second side of I Sing The Body Electric] I still didn’t have a synthesizer. I only had an electric piano that I prepared with different things and a ring modulator that Carlos Santana had given me. I bought an ARP and didn’t play it for a long time because it was difficult to get the patches, but eventually I incorporated it.” [DB84] In 1978 he told Conrad Silvert, “Mostly, I have learned about synthesizers on my own, by trial and error. When I first got the ARP, Roger Powell was working for them and helped set it up for ‘Unknown Soldier.’” [DB78b]

2. The Moors (Shorter) 4:49

In Brian Glasser’s Zawinul biography In a Silent Way, Zawinul describes how Ralph Towner’s guitar solo was recorded:

“‘The Moors’ with Ralph Towner–beautiful. You know, I tricked him into this, because I could feel, man, when he came in the studio to play, he was so scared! I could see his eyes.”

“Do you think you’re intimidating?” interjects the interviewer.

“Perhaps! Anyway, I tell the engineer, I said, ‘Listen man,’ because Ralph said, ‘Excuse me, is it possible? I want to practice a little bit before,’ and the I immediately know: this is one guy, he practices 20 minutes and plays his ass off, then you put the red light on and he plays full of shit. So he tuned up, and already when he tuned up the guy put two reels on, next to each other. And I said, ‘Don’t please show him the red light; we’re just talking in here, looking all kinds of different ways.’ Son of a gun, man! And he played his heart out out there. And so then he said, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready to play now.’ And I said, ‘Ralph, it’s done. Pack up the goddamn guitar, man. We have a drink.’ And out of this, we had a beautiful, beautiful introduction for ‘The Moors.’” [IASW, p. 143]

3. Crystal (Vitous) 7:23

Years later, Vitous said of this tune, “It was basically improvised; I played some fuzztone bass and some arco, and we started playing. I wrote a basic frame with a bass line and a few melody notes, and Joe found some harmonies to play and we just went on and improvised the piece within that skeleton. It’s more of an essence and a bass line than anything else.” [JB04]

4. Second Sunday In August (Zawinul) 4:04

Zawinul once explained the meaning of the tune: “Every second Sunday in August we celebrated the harvest festival. In my village, right after church, everybody is dancing, partying in the restaurant, the bands are playing, people coming from other villages. And on a tall, straight tree there are baskets put up high full of fruit and money, and the kids climb up to get the basket. One of the best days in the year.” [DB78b]

Side Two

5. Medley: Vertical Invader (Zawinul), T.H. (Vitous), Dr. Honoris Causa (Zawinul) 10:45

An edited version of the original medley, having been pared down from over 26 minutes to just over 10. (The entire version can be heard on Live in Tokyo.) “Dr. Honoris Causa” was written by Zawinul during a visit to his Austrian homeland in the winter of 1966-67. He originally recorded it for his album, Zawinul, in which he employed Herbie Hancock as a second keyboardist. “I named ‘Dr. Honoris Causa’ for Herbie, because he had just received an honorary doctorate from Grinnell, and he really helped me on this album,” Zawinul said in a 1978 article. [DB78b]

6. Surucucú (Shorter) 7:46

This track is edited from a medley that included “Lost” and “Early Minor.” The entire medley can be heard on Live In Tokyo.

Regarding the title, Shorter explained that the song is named for “a snake in Brazil and Africa, too. It winds around, zig zags, and it’s fast.” [FT06, page 46]

7. Directions (Zawinul) 4:37

In 1975 Zawinul told Ray Townley of Down Beat that he wrote this tune during a trip to Austria in 1967. “I had spent a winter with my family in Austria, and I wrote about ten tunes, including ‘In A Silent Way,’ ‘Directions,’ which Miles [Davis] used to play for a long time as an opener for his show, ‘Early Man,’ [sic, 'Early Minor'] and ‘Orange Lady,’ which by the way is 14 minutes of ‘Great Expectations’ on the [Davis] Big Fun album. But there was some kind of mess-up with the titles, so it was not mentioned that it was my tune. Also ‘Pharoah’s Dance,’ ‘Double Image,’ and a couple of other things. I wrote them all in this period during 1967.” [DB75a]

Davis’ recording of “Directions,” with Zawinul playing the Rhodes electric piano, occurred near the end of 1968, at a point of great exploration for the trumpeter. Paul Tingen, author of Miles Beyond: The Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991, wrote, “With ‘Directions’ Miles’s explorations into jazz-rock suddenly took a great leap forward.” “Directions” was Davis’ set opener for three years, lending credence to the notion that this was an important composition in the development of Davis’ move toward rock-jazz. Two studio versions of “Directions” can be heard on Davis’ album, Directions, and live recordings can be heard on Black Beauty: Miles Davis at Fillmore West and Miles Davis at Fillmore: Live at the Fillmore East. More recently, saxophonist Bob Belden recorded it on two of his albums.

This track was also the subject of the October 12, 1972 Down Beat “blindfold test” in which drummer Elvin Jones commented on several tunes without being told what was being played. Here are his comments about “Directions:”

My impression of that is that it is one of the best examples I’ve heard of the use of electronics musically, in conjunction with some acoustical instruments. It was kind of refreshing. I had never heard that group before, I know who it is but I’d never actually heard them do anything. I know them, but I’m not going to get into that. My impression is that it sounded nice to me. I never heard anybody else do that with that kind of instrumentation.

That’s another five [stars]. One further comment: it’s very hard for some people to take that, because unless they’re musically oriented it would appear initially to be a lot of noise, and they wouldn’t be able to accept the values that were apparent. [DB72c]

(8). Directions, Take 1 (Zawinul) 5:29

This studio recording of “Directions” was recorded along with the tracks on side one, but was not released until the 2006 compilation Forecast: Tomorrow. It is included as Track 8 on the version of I Sing The Body Electric that was released in 2012 as part of the boxed set Weather Report The Columbia Albums 1971-1975.

Review Excerpts

I Sing The Body Electric is a beautiful, near-perfect LP, especially welcome after Weather Report’s noodling, at least half-dismal debut album. Again, what at first sounded like lack of involvement and direction seems in retrospect to have been a deliberate progression toward a style that is now organically alive. The second side of Body Electric, recorded live in Tokyo, is the key: what we have here is a group that has reorganized the role of the traditional rhythm section in an unusual way. Joe Zawinul uses his electronic keyboards like a hornplayer; he rarely plays chords or fills, choosing instead to engage in a dialogue of equals with saxophonist Shorter. Miroslav Vitous uses his bass as a third voice in this ongoing conversation, which often leaves drummer Eric Grávátt to handle the rhythmic chores, a job he performs with style and grace.

“The studio side of Weather Report is equally strong. Zawinul’s ‘Unknown Soldier’ is classic, with brilliant writing for voices, flute, English horn, and piccolo trumpet. Like [Herbie] Hancock, Zawinul employs multiple themes, contrasting tempos, climaxes, pauses, repeats, and solos that contribute to the overall structure and flow… Weather Report may be playing for each other, as some detractors have suggested, but they seem to have become their own most demanding audience. Now that they’ve got their shit together, they’re one of the most exciting groups in contemporary music.”

– Bob Palmer, Rolling Stone, Number 112

“This isn’t a jazz record but a collection of mood or program pieces, tone drawings to which the listener is expected to provide the captions if not fulsome exigeses… The music is brilliantly played. There are several beautiful and haunting strains; the group interaction is often very exciting, and the use of various sound qualities is inspired. But–something visceral is missing. The music is too cold and metallic, as though much of the substance were tinsel… Despite my mixed feelings, there is no question that Weather Report is into something new and stimulating. I hope that these artists will pass out of what seems to be a gee-whiz attitude to the possibilities of electricity and settle into some more substantial cooking. In any case, I look forward to the next installment eagerly.”

★★★★

– Gary Giddins, Down Beat, October 26, 1972

“To all intents and purposes, [I Sing The Body Electric] was electrified avant-garde… It said much for the experimental climate of the early 1970s that a major recording company released a recording such as this–which featured contrasting meters, improvisation, abstraction, and programmatic episodes–that was totally unique in jazz. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine any major recording company actively marketing such bold, serious, contemporary experimentation in today’s heavily formatted musical culture. Remarkably, this uncompromising music actually reached 147 on the Billboard pop album chart.” [JR]

– Stuart Nicholson, Jazz-Rock; A History, 1998

“Out of the maze of recordings released each year, a few sort themselves out as indispensable. The new Weather Report album, I Sing The Body Electric, is already one of those albums… [Weather Report] have made a record which can make my spine tingle. And that doesn’t happen too often these days.”

– Sy Johnson, Changes, October 1972

Awards

Billboard chart peak: Top 200 Albums, 147. (Jazz Album chart unknown.)

3 thoughts on “I Sing The Body Electric

  1. curt Post author

    Ken, I wasn’t aware of that. But a little Googling revealed this interview of Will by fellow bass player Rick Suchow. The pertinent section:

    The band [Metro] dedicated the album [Express] to Joe Zawinul and Michael Brecker. Brecker was a great friend of yours, and you recorded with Joe on an early Weather Report album.

    I didn’t know Joe that well, but worked with him and was singing on the second Weather Report album called I Sing The Body Electric. I wasn’t credited because I wasn’t in the union yet, so I got paid as a musical consultant for the two tunes I sang on. I remember the title of one song was “Ballad Of An Unknown Soldier”, and the other one I can’t remember but I’ve gotta go back and check one of these days.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>