“The most incredible album Zawinul ever made. Nothing else comes close. Nothing.”
– Robert Thomas, Jr.
|Original Release:||Columbia JC 36793|
|Co-Produced by:||Jaco Pastorius|
Tracks 1-7 recorded live July 12-13, 1980 by George Massenburg, Jerry Hudgins, and Brian Risner at The Complex in Santa Monica, California. Mixed by Jerry Hudgins at The Complex.
Track 8 recorded live by Brian Risner in Osaka, Japan. Mixed by Brian Risner at Devonshire Sound, North Hollywood, California.
|Robert Thomas, Jr.:||Hand drums|
The music for Night Passage was honed during the tours of 1979-1980, following the release of 8:30. Whereas 8:30 relied largely on the music of the past, on the ’79-’80 tours the Pastorius-Erskine-Thomas edition of Weather Report developed its own unique identity independent of earlier work. Perhaps Jon Pareles captured the difference best in his article in Musician Player & Listener describing Weather Report’s New York concert in early 1980:
As Weather Report has gained popularity, the bigger audiences–rock audiences–have less and less use for the improvisational crossfire that makes Weather Report burn onstage. Instead, they’d applaud perfunctory versions of classic Weather Report tunes (familiarity and simplicity) and go gaga over Jaco Pastorius’ bullshit bass-and-echoplex solos (loudness) while ignoring the band’s best improvisational tangents. And slowly, Weather Report began to succumb. Although I’ve never seen them do a bad show, when I listened to their recent live album, 8:30, back to back with the Live in Japan CBS-Sony import (from which side two of I Sing the Body Electric is excerpted), I felt betrayed. This wasn’t the band I’d heard blowtorching every song they played–it was a rock band summarizing its greatest hits.
Maybe Weather Report felt the same way. While 8:30 showed a band caving in to audience demands for predictability, Weather Report’s latest New York appearance (at the Beacon Theater, as usual) proved they’re ready to sprint ahead of their audience once again. Familiarity be damned–the only ‘hit’ on the program was the set-closer, “Birdland,” wrapped into even bluesier shape than the version on 8:30, now with a new percussionist, played very fast and loose, and it worked.
Many of the new tunes, including the ones from the studio side of 8:30, are staccato connect-the-dots ventures that jump up and down and around the scale–the most difficult kind of melody to play with forward momentum and human phrasing. Shorter and Zawinul simply zinged them off, with Pastorius percolating (still a little busily) underneath them, then raised the tunes aloft and flung them into the air. Many of the tunes build along the lines set out by Sweetnighter‘s “Boogie Woogie Waltz”–slow, unpredictable accretion of thematic material, seemingly spontaneously generated in the heat of the jam–yet the new tunes are more complex, and they tease by making you wonder just what’s thematic and what’s not. And just when the band would seem to be heading for fireworks-and-brimstone climaxes, they’d detour for one more strange, wonderful and illuminating tangent. There was structure aplenty–and the willingness to trash it for the sake of jazz or just plain high spirits. [M80]
The new percussionist to which Pareles referred was Robert Thomas Jr., who came aboard in late January 1980. [BG80] In a 1998 article for the Miami New Times, Nina Korman explained how Thomas came to be a member of Weather Report:
In the late Seventies [Jaco] Pastorius, who lived in South Florida, performed alongside Thomas at a benefit for a fellow musician held at a Miami Springs nightspot. The bassist was astounded by what he heard and enthusiastically promised to report his new discovery to Zawinul. “A month later I got a phone call,” says Thomas, “and it was Jaco saying ‘Hey, man, you want to audition for Weather Report?’” The tactful Thomas never let on that he had no idea who Weather Report was.
Another thing Thomas didn’t know was that his audition in New Haven, Connecticut, would consist of performing with the band at a show, a big show, in front of 6,000 people. “What overwhelmed me was when we pulled up and we saw these two huge tractor-trailer trucks, and I thought ‘What kind of gig is this?’” he laughs. Yet the 24-year-old musician was unfazed: “I was confident and comfortable with who I was and doing what I was doing. I was happy and knew that I was doing something different.” Thomas was hired immediately and went on the road with the band for a month and a half, not really knowing what he was getting into. “Until we hit Japan, and then I saw all the groupies scratching on the limo windows like we were rock stars, that’s when I realized, ‘Hey, this is a big deal.’” [MNT98]
Peter Erskine later described Thomas as “the sleekest, most jazz-oriented percussionist you could have got, with the possible exception of Don Alias, and he was busy at the time.” [IASW, p. 217] After a year and a half of swearing the band didn’t need a percussionist–”they never mattered all that much anyway” [LAT78]–Zawinul explained Thomas’ addition: “We eliminated the hand drums so that we could hear the four fundamentals of the band, so the four musicians could better understand just where they were, to purify their sounds and then we could bring a drummer back that would be used as a harmonic element or provide rhythmic coloring or harmonic colorings, provide a different harmony… But we all play drums, we just play different tones. Sometimes I make one keyboard a highhat (cymbal), let’s say, to create a rhythm or to center the rhythm.” [BG81]
Thomas explained his style to Zawinul biographer Brian Glasser: “They weren’t happy with what was happening with the rhythm. They needed some other movements, and Jaco heard me playing bebop (I’m known for bebop, not Latin percussion), so I was the perfect guy for the music at the time. They were on the 8:30 tour but playing the music of Night Passage, which was very beboppish, straight-ahead and extremely fast… Most percussionists rely on tradition, and they lock everything in and get in the way. Peter is such a free drummer, and has such a lot of chops. He didn’t need anybody in the way or keeping time for him. And Joe would say, ‘Find something else to play. Don’t play on my beats. Go somewhere else.’ So for me it was a perfect relationship, because I view conga-playing like blowing a trumpet or saxophone. You look at a horn player, he doesn’t play the whole night with the horn in his mouth. He takes it out and takes a breath.” [IASW, pp. 217-219]
Zawinul was clearly delighted with how well the band was playing at this point. “We are playing so great together right now it’s unbearable,” he told Melody Maker in November 1980. “We can hear each other very well, we are improvising so fast, we’re so in tune with one another.” [MM80b]
John Gill, reviewing Weather Report’s 1980 concert at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, concurred. “Loath as I am to say it (their egos have grown beyond all recognition as it is), but Weather Report prove that the jazz universe is still expanding… Their second night at Hammersmith was simply awesome–no sycophantic bleat from someone who usually prefers the freer end of jazz. They played a grueling set of nigh on three hours, themes from Mr. Gone and early works looming and receding in an improvised set, and not once did they take an easy route or lazy option.” [S80]
In the Melody Maker article, the author suggested to Zawinul that Weather Report in its early years was more “free,” the playing wilder and less structured. “Not really freer, no that’s not the word,” Zawinul replied. “‘Cause we are as free now as we’ve ever been. It didn’t have the direction then, it was more a swimming around rather than really knowing where you were going. Sometimes that seems like it is free, but the greatest freedom is if you have the discipline. That’s where freedom totally comes in, where you exactly know on which parts you can let go.” [MM80b]
Ray Murphy of the Boston Globe caught a Weather Report concert after Thomas had been aboard for a year, writing:
Certainly Saturday night Thomas played his role, supplying another ensemble voice, separate but equal. He was much stronger than he was last time around and came close to filling Zawinul’s ideal of where the group should be going, but hasn’t been for the last couple of years.
“Everything is part of everything else,” Zawinul says. “Bobby adds more textures as his confidence and his domination of the material grows and now the trick is to integrate but keeping all the parts separate, more but separate, more details but separate . . . and everything part of the song.”
And Thomas’ adjustment is probably the hottest long-range news of the night in that it liberates all the creative juices Weather Report has in such bubbling abundance and assures us a continuing supply of new and inventive music. [BG81]
With Weather Report performing at its peak, the band recorded Night Passage live in front of an audience of 250 people at the Complex in Los Angeles over two nights, two shows each night. “We played our asses off in front of people because we are people,” Zawinul said. “If we can, we make a record live and then go into the studio to work on it. We had already played these songs on three concert tours before the record came out.” [IM81]
“Night Passage was the most incredible album [Zawinul] ever made,” Thomas recalled. “Nothing else comes close. Nothing.” [IASW, p. 218]
1. Night Passage (Zawinul) 6:30
According to a Boston Globe article, Zawinul was inspired to write this tune by a trip he took on the Venice to Vienna night train, with the clackety-clack rhythm of the train and the sound of a railroad station announcement he recorded in an Italian railroad depot along the way. [BG81]
Erskine told Glasser, “We had a terrible time recording ‘Night Passage’ the song, which was done in the studio, after we’d done the live stuff. It was cut together from different takes. It keeps going faster, and Joe said, ‘This is cool. The train’s speeding up!’ As a drummer, of course, I felt like I’d violated a sacred rule…” [IASW, p. 220]
Zawinul and Pastorius talked enthusiastically about this track in an interview in International Musician and Recording World:
Jaco: “Take the bass on the first track. You wrote all the notes, man.”
Zawinul: “That is a mean bass part. I improvised it and copied it totally down.”
Jaco: “He sent me that part in the mail, and I had to learn it. It’s a hard part. It took me about a week to finger that chart.”
Zawinul: “It’s one of those tunes, if you lose the spot you cannot get back in. But I never write one part, it’s the whole thing together, bass with my left hand and rest with my right hand, and then I write it down.” [IM81]
2. Dream Clock (Zawinul) 6:25
Zawinul told Melody Maker how the Weather Report performances varied from one another while remaining rooted in a foundation. “The progressions will change every day, the chords will change every day, but there are certain things that will only change in expression rather than in the actual wording of it. By that I mean the actual notes being used. You listen to ‘Dream Clock.’ The melody will never be changed but the expression of it will be different every day, and the chords will be different. And that’s what keeps us being very successful, because people can feel the reality of it every day.” [MM80b]
Peter Erskine recorded another version of “Dream Clock” on his 1988 album Motion Poet, using an arrangement by Vince Mendoza and a 12-piece horn section.
3. Port Of Entry (Shorter) 5:06
“This one was kind of reminiscent of immigrants coming in, coming and going,” recalled Shorter. “I remember thinking that the port of entry also has to do with the freedom to go to different ports of entry. I mean, if the doors are closed, you won’t have immigration. And ‘Port Of Entry’ is also psychological because a lot of people don’t let others in: they expect everybody else to have a passport that looks like theirs.” [FT, page 73]
4. Forlorn (Zawinul) 3:52
5. Rockin’ In Rhythm (Duke Ellington/Irving Mills/Harry Carney) 3:01
In his Musician article, Pareles described Weather Report’s live performance of “Rockin’ In Rhythm” like this: “In a night of curveballs at the Beacon, the most unexpected one was that Weather Report actually played a cover: Duke Ellington’s ‘Rockin’ In Rhythm.’ It was perfect, not only for its title, but for the way the band tore into it. They treated its bluesy line as they’d treat anything Shorter or Zawinul might have come up with, hard and swinging, while behind it Zawinul punched sustaining modal Fender Rhodes chords off the beats in a trademark style. In totally regrooving Ellington, Weather Report asserted their continuity with jazz tradition, simultaneously proving they had something of their own to add to it.” [M80]
In a 1997 article for Jazziz magazine, Josef Woodard described Zawinul warming up for a rehearsal in his home studio with a “knuckle-busting voicing of Duke Ellington’s ‘Rockin’ In Rhythm.’” “You’ve gotta be able to play keyboards,” Zawinul told Woodard. “It’s a lot of thirds.” [JI97]
6. Fast City (Zawinul) 6:17
7. Three Views Of A Secret (Pastorius) 5:51
Widely regarded by many, including Zawinul, as Jaco’s finest composition, “Three Views of a Secret” was originally written for Jaco’s second album, Word of Mouth, in which it appears in fully orchestrated form. Jaco told Conrad Silvert, “I took the title from a chart written 10 years ago by Charlie Brent, who was musical director of Wayne Cochran’s band when I was the bassist. Charlie is one of my most important teachers.” [DB81c]
According to Jaco’s widow, Ingrid Pastorius, “Jaco wrote ‘Three Views’ in 1979. He had recently moved into my tiny apartment, and it was the newly acquired Prophet 5 that helped him evolve the tune. He initially named the piece after me, but I declined the honor (please don’t ask me why, cuz I don’t really know, just felt that way at the time). He then decided to name it what it is now, and told me he had ‘stolen’ the title from [Charlie] Brent.” She adds, “Jaco had written ‘Three Views’ for the second solo album he was working on. It was after the fact that he decided to submit the tune to Weather Report to add to the repertoire of the new Weather Report album and tour. Joe initially wasn’t too keen on the tune, but Jaco stuck with it. I remember him being in a state of dilemma before submitting the tune to Joe and Wayne.” Jaco also told Silvert that, whereas Wayne Shorter “skated around” the melody on the Night Passage version, on the Word Of Mouth album, Toots Thielemans plays the melody exactly as written. [DB81c]
A live version of “Three Views” can be heard on Jaco’s The Birthday Concert album, a live recording of the concert Jaco staged on the occasion of his 30th birthday on December 1, 1981.
8. Madagascar (Zawinul) 10:53
Recorded live in Osaka, Japan. Zawinul once said that this composition was originally part of his concept for Dialects. [EM86]
About “Madagascar,” Zawinul and Pastorius told International Musician and Recording World:
Zawinul: You must dig that one. This is one of the great all-time band improvisations. The first few lines in A flat minor and the melody, this is stated, and then the eighth note bass thing that we play together, but after that everything is improvised.
Jaco: That was on a two track, the guys recorded it live on a bus. Like, the bass was recorded at minus 10dB. It wasn’t even on, man. We had the Oberheim and the bass on the same track, total insanity. We had to take two days making the stuff audible because we played so well. [IM81]
(9). Teen Town [Live] (Pastorius) 7:01
This live version of “Teen Town” was recorded March 2, 1979 at the Karl Marx Theatre, Havana, Cuba, and was originally released on Havana Jam 2. It is included on the version of Night Passage that is part of the 2012 boxed set Weather Report The Columbia Albums 1976-1982.
(10). Port Of Entry [Alternate Take] (Shorter) 8:08
This alternate take of “Port Of Entry” from the same performances as the Night Passage tracks was originally released in 2002 on Live and Unreleased, and is included on the version of Night Passage that is part of the 2012 boxed set Weather Report The Columbia Albums 1976-1982.
(11). Fast City [Alternate Take] (Zawinul) 6:49
This alternate take of “Fast City” from the same performances as the Night Passage tracks was originally released in 2002 on Live and Unreleased, and is included on the version of Night Passage that is part of the 2012 boxed set Weather Report The Columbia Albums 1976-1982.
(12). Night Passage [Alternate Take] (Shorter) 5:53
This alternate take of “Night Passage” from the same performances as the Night Passage tracks was originally released in 2002 on Live and Unreleased, and is included on the version of Night Passage that is part of the 2012 boxed set Weather Report The Columbia Albums 1976-1982.
– Bob Henschen, Down Beat, February 1981
“Despite its spaciousness, though, it’s a record that’s dense in ingenuity, a work of subtlety that slowly reveals itself to the listener like an onion being peeled layer by layer, showing different nuances and meanings at each successive stage. For that reason a review can only hint at the wealth contained within, skating over the unknown pleasures yet to be discovered.”
– Lynden Barber, Melody Maker, November 29, 1980
– Angus MacKinnon, New Musical Express, November 22, 1980
– Brian Glasser, In A Silent Way, 2000
Billboard chart peak: Jazz Albums, 2; Top 200 Albums, 57.