Sportin’ Life

Sportin' Life

“There is nothing changed except that we're not going to tour with this record immediately.”
– Joe Zawinul

Track Listing

Side One

1. Corner Pocket (Zawinul) 5:43
2. Indiscretions (Zawinul) 4:03
3. Hot Cargo (Zawinul) 4:38
4. Confians (Cinélu) 5:03

Side Two

5. Pearl On The Half-Shell (Shorter) 4:04
6. What’s Going On (M. Gaye) 6:26
7. The Face On The Barroom Floor (Shorter) 3:55
8. Ice-Pick Willy (Zawinul) 4:56

Credits

Original Release: Columbia Columbia FC 39908
Date Released: March 1985
Produced by: Zawinul/Wayne Shorter
Recorded and mixed at: Crystal Recording, Hollywood, California
Additional recording at: The Music Room, Pasadena, California
Engineer: Howard Siegel
Assistant Engineers: Matt Pakucko, Jim McMahon
Additional Engineering: Bernie Fromm, Peter Kelsey
Mastered At: Bernie Grundman Mastering, Hollywood, California
Special Thanks: Dr. George Butler, Robert Margouleff, James Swanson, Howard Burke, Jacquiline Bissley, Beau Halfon, John Branca, Gary Stiffelman, Maureen Woods, Bruce Eisenberg
Album Artwork: Jerry McDonald
Art Direction: Tony Lane/Nancy Donald
Photography: Hideo Kawahara, Tokyo, Japan
Exclusive Representation: Corvalan-Condliffe Management, Santa Monica, California

Personnel

Josef Zawinul: Keyboards
Wayne Shorter: Saxophones
Omar Hakim: Drums, background vocals (track 4 only)
Victor Bailey: Bass, background vocals (track 4 only)
Mino Cinélu: Percussion, lead vocal (track 4 only), acoustic guitar (track 4 only)
Carl Anderson: Vocalist (tracks 1, 3 and 8)
Dee Dee Bellson: Vocalist (tracks 1, 3 and 8)
Alfie Silas: Voice (tracks 1, 3 and 8)

Overview

Press PhotoPress Kit Photo. Left to right: Zawinul, Cinélu, Shorter, Hakim, Bailey. Photo: Sam Emerson.

For Weather Report’s fourteenth album, the line-up remained the same as the previous two albums except for percussion, where Mino Cinélu replaced José Rossy. Born in Martinique in 1957 and raised in France, Cinélu played in a band with his brothers before moving to New York in 1979, where he led his own band, the Mino Cinélu Ensemble. In 1981 he joined Miles Davis’ return-from-retirement band, staying until he joined Weather Report. “It was weird with Jose,” Zawinul said while the band was on tour following the release of Domino Theory. “He didn’t leave, we just had to kind of let him go–not because of the music, it just didn’t work out. So after Jose left, we had this one guy audition, and we rehearsed for two weeks–all kinds of things–and that didn’t work out. We were kind of stuck and had to call Mino on the last day before the tour. Mino’s been working with Miles Davis for the last three years, and, fortunately, we just caught him, because he was supposed to play with Gil Evans a day later and he had to rearrange it. He flew out here, and he fits in great; in many ways he might be the best percussion player we’ve had so far.” [IM84]

Prompted by Josef Woodard to describe the concept behind Sportin’ Life, Zawinul said: “The band last year played as great as ever. We went to Europe to all these resort places. When you see the album cover with the color and everything, you’re immediately going to get the message. The sportin’ life, easy goin’, maybe a little hoodlumism, a little gamblin’, women, hangin’ out… that’s what the whole album is about, the easy life in the good places where people like to go. Palm trees, ocean, places like the French Riviera, where we spent time last summer. Originally, we wanted to have an album cover with a collage of postcards. That’s what the music is supposed to be, an international resort album, something really hip.” [Mus85]

Sportin’ Life was in part the product of a new technology that revolutionized synthesizers and electronic musical instruments: MIDI. The Musical Instrument Digital Interface is a standardized way of transmitting and receiving information between electronic musical instruments. Prior to MIDI, various electronic instrument manufacturers had begun devising their own proprietary ways of connecting their instruments. But by 1982, when MIDI was originally proposed, it was clear that a standard would benefit all manufacturers. The first MIDI-equipped keyboards came on the market in 1983, and by 1986 virtually all electronic music instruments sold had MIDI connections.

In simplified terms, MIDI allows you to transmit the keys pressed on one MIDI-compatible keyboard to another MIDI-compatible instrument. Furthermore, computers can be equipped with a MIDI interface and sequencer software, enabling the computer to record what is played on a keyboard, and to subsequently modify it and play it back on any other MIDI device. A sequencer is somewhat analogous to a tape recorder, except that a sequencer records the notes played as opposed to the sounds those notes create. For Zawinul, the early MIDI devices and software meant he could improvise and record multi-instrument MIDI sequences that could be edited later, thereby allowing him to completely realize his compose-by-improvisation composing method.

Zawinul told Woodard, “The last song ['Ice-Pick Willy'] was the first song I ever played with MIDI. The only thing that was done was editing, and Wayne overdubbed, Omar overdubbed the cymbal and I added the voices at the end and that’s it. I personally didn’t do any overdubs. Same thing with ‘Indiscretions.’ ‘Hot Cargo’ was totally on MIDI; the only overdubs were Wayne on the melody and Mino on the Simmons drums. This is the way to do it; it is inexpensive and it is totally spontaneous, towards total improvisation. That’s what it’s all about.” [Mus85]

By the time Sportin’ Life hit the streets in the spring of 1985, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter had decided it was time for a break. When Zawinul and Shorter spoke to Woodard in March, he started off by asking them, “I should begin by asking about the status of Weather Report as a musical entity. Let’s dispel any unfounded rumors. There’s been talk of solo projects in the works.”

Shorter: Yeah, that’s what we’re doing–solo projects, and a lot of things, whatever we feel like we can do. If we continue to tour and make records with Weather Report after fourteen years, still there’s a wealth of things–musically and otherwise–that we might just let go by the wayside. I’ll tell you–I’m fifty-one.

Zawinul: That’s all, Wayne?

Shorter: I’m going to be fifty-two coming up. My whole music room is full of music papers and a couple of comic books I drew. And Josef’s got drawers of music, papers and cassettes.

Zawinul: In all, I’ve got 2,000 pieces of music which I’ve done nothing with. Wayne has written music I remember from two years ago [turns to him] when you went to Brazil, you had ninety pages of orchestrated music. If we keep on going like we’ve been doing, in other words, making records–as well as they might be–and touring all the time, we will be sixty-two and by that time I’m going to have 5,000 pieces of music and Wayne might have 400 pages written, and it is dead.

Let’s say Weather Report is a hobby we can no longer afford to continuously just do. There are other things at this stage of our lives and we have to branch out. I think we made a great record, but I think we finally can afford to do something we want to do. Wayne hasn’t done a solo album in eleven years. I haven’t done one in sixteen years. He’s in the studio right now. I’m also in the studio ready for a solo project.

But as for the status of the band–it’s still Weather Report, with Omar Hakim, Victor Bailey, Mino Cinélu, Wayne and myself, still existent. We’re still going to make records with this band; however, momentarily, we will not travel with the band. I’ll go out in the summer to Europe for four week by myself–just me and my synthesizers. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years, and if I don’t do it now, I ain’t gonna do it. And now the technologies are such that I can go out as a full orchestra myself.

It’s good; we need that rest from each other as a band and for the people also. The band has been better than ever in the last couple of years, as a working unit it’s been an inspiration–everybody’s listening to each other. However, that’s when you do something else. When you become a champion, that’s when you should more or less hang up the gloves for a minute and do something else. [Mus85]

Zawinul and Shorter also spoke of a joint Columbia Masterworks orchestral album that never materialized. But Zawinul insisted that Weather Report was still a going concern. “There is nothing changed except that we’re not going to tour with this record immediately. Next year we’ll come out with a Weather Report album, but the only thing we’re not doing is going right out with our bags, so that the moment the record hits the streets, we’re in Cleveland. [laughs].” [Mus85]

It was clear at this point that Zawinul and Shorter thought that Sportin’ Life completed their Columbia recording contract. Zawinul told Woodard, “This new album is incredible. It’s raw but it’s well thought out. It all has that lumberjack quality, but it has feeling and it is powerful and it has all kinds of beautiful things in it. Joe Ruffalo, our old manager, said, ‘The last album you do for Columbia’–it doesn’t mean we won’t be on Columbia, this is just the last album on this contract term–’really do something nice, crazy but nice so you can go on and make your moves.” [Mus85] Sportin’ Life would have been a fitting Weather Report swan song, but as things turned out, Columbia would require one more album to finish the contract, the hastily constructed This Is This.

True to their word, the band members went their separate ways for the remainder of 1985. When Sportin’ Life was released Shorter was already recording tracks for Atlantis, the first album under his own name in eleven years. That summer he appeared in the Bertrand Tavernier film ‘Round Midnight, and in the fall he assembled his own band. In the summer Zawinul toured Europe with his arsenal of keyboards and drum machines as a one-man band. Upon his return he completed Dialects, his first solo album in sixteen years. Omar Hakim joined Sting’s band. Victor Bailey toured with Steps Ahead. The only question was, would they ever reassemble again?

Side One

1. Corner Pocket (Zawinul) 5:43

Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Bailey, Hakim, Cinélu, McFerrin, Anderson, Bellson, Silas

While much of Sportin’ Life was conceived and sequenced in Zawinul’s home, Zawinul told Woodard that this tune was a studio effort. [Mus85]

2. Indiscretions (Zawinul) 4:03

Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Bailey, Hakim, Cinélu

Zawinul said this tune “was done at home, but I had overdubbed Omar and Mino, just boom, boom, boom, to get the wide bass drum overdub sound.” [Mus85] Zawinul continued to play “Indiscretions” live at least into the late 1990s, and it can be heard on the Zawinul Syndicate album World Tour.

3. Hot Cargo (Zawinul) 4:38

Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Bailey, Hakim, Cinélu, McFerrin, Anderson, Bellson, Silas

Of “Hot Cargo,” Zawinul said “I did [it] totally at home in one shot with MIDI. Wayne overdubbed the melody. Mino overdubbing on that solo part. I had three voices singing on that at the end.” [Mus85]

4. Confians (Cinélu) 5:03

Personnel: Cinélu, Zawinul, Shorter, Bailey, Hakim

Zawinul told Woodard, “Mino’s tune we laid tracks in the studio. One thing we always do, when we use any outside composer’s material–which rarely is happening–we do give composers respect. When Wayne brings in a piece of music, I become just the bystander, more or less. I look at this and let the man take care of things. I’m trying to figure out what he likes. And then I’m putting my mustard on it.” [Mus85]

Cinélu recorded his own version of “Confians” on his self-titled 2000 album.

Side Two

5. Pearl On The Half-Shell (Shorter) 4:04

Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Bailey, Hakim, Cinélu, McFerrin

Woodard asked Shorter how he conceived “Pearl On The Half-Shell:”

Shorter: It went through a metamorphosis. I had put that initial bass line on a cassette from the piano.

Zawinul: It was slow, originally, right?

Shorter: The first cassette you heard was slow, yeah, because my piano technique is such that I did it real slow for me. Then I wrote those lines that move around later on–I did that on the Yamaha Portatone, on my bed, because I was tired of walking upstairs and downstairs. I stayed in my bedroom and got the melodic flow.

Zawinul: A beautiful song, man.

Shorter: I was using the suggestion that Joe gave to me, saying “Why don’t you try to write the melody on a totally different sounding something?” You don’t have to buy a big synthesizer, even a Casio sound will make you think of something else. [Mus85]

6. What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye) 6:26

Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Bailey, Hakim, Cinélu

Asked if this was a tribute to Marvin Gaye, Zawinul responded:

Well, you could say that, but I’ll tell you also something. It also had to do with the fact that we were approached by Columbia, because of the difficulty of our music–the complexity, I should say, if maybe we could come up with something that people could recognize. I like Marvin Gaye. I thought he was one of the finest pop personas. I can groove with his stuff. And I liked “What’s Going On” when it came out.

So the first day we recorded “Corner Pocket” and Wayne’s song–”Pearl On The Half-Shell.” And then we went out for dinner and came back around ten in the evening. I just said “Let’s sit down and play that song.” The first time we played the song, that’s the recording. The very first time we played, and the last time. I heard the melody and wrote it down to get a little idea of the phrasing so that people know the tune.

What we did–that was my idea–was have those international people talking, because on his records he had people doing little raps in the studio–”Hey jack, wuss hapneh?” [Mus85]

In a 1997 article for Jazziz, Josef Woodard recalled Zawinul warming up for a rehearsal in his home studio by dipping “into a bronze-colored reading of ‘What’s Going On.’” “[Gaye] was my favorite pop musician,” Zawinul told Woodard. “There’s a point where you have to say, ‘I’m going to do my own thing, thank you very much, sir,’ and that’s what Marvin Gaye did.” [JI97]

7. The Face On The Barroom Floor (Shorter) 3:55

Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Bailey, Hakim, Cinélu

In 2005, Hal Miller elicited this comment from Shorter about this song: “Well, it’s that old Broadway play. I thought the title was kind of picturesque — it kind of snaps you back to the way that people are concerned with themselves, and having a good time. But even though you’re in a place where you’re raising a lot of hell and having a good time, there’s something there that takes you away from yourself, and you wonder about the story that’s in this place because something’s out of place. Face on the barroom floor. Somebody painted a face on the barroom floor. Why? And as you start drinking and partying, you ask the question: why?” [FT, page 82]

Zawinul told Woodard, “We recorded the whole tune in forty-five minutes. We laid a click track, and then Wayne and me played: I played the acoustic piano and he played the tenor. And then I sent Wayne away, I said, ‘Wayne, let me take care of it.’ He had the song written out so neatly, the voicing and all that was all written. I took a piece of paper and orchestrated it for me. I hadn’t changed a single note of what he had written. I looked at the way the melodies were running. He came back in about an hour, and the piece was like you hear it on the record.” [Mus85]

Bob Belden recorded a version of “The Face on the Barroom Floor” on his 1989 album Treasure Island.

8. Ice-Pick Willy (Zawinul) 4:56

Personnel: Zawinul, Shorter, Bailey, Hakim, Cinélu, McFerrin, Anderson, Bellson, Silas

Zawinul told Woodard, “The last song ['Ice-Pick Willy'] was the first song I ever played with MIDI. The only thing that was done was editing, and Wayne overdubbed, Omar overdubbed the cymbal and I added the voices at the end and that’s it. I personally didn’t do any overdubs.” Zawinul also said the name ‘Ice-Pick Willy’ came from a Redd Foxx routine. [Mus85]

Review Excerpts

“The rap against post-Pastorius Weather Report has been that the group is too formulaic and Zawinul-dominated. Certainly the first three albums since Jaco’s departure bear this out… Shorter’s relative obscurity during this transitional period remains a mystery. But that argument falls apart with Sportin’ Life. Shorter’s contributions are indeed felt on this 14th Weather Report LP, the group’s finest since Jaco went on to bigger (as in big band) things… For the first time in a long time, Weather Report sounds like a band. Of course, Mysterious Traveller holdouts may not care for the funk-and-vocals direction the group has taken of late. But that was more than a decade ago… This current combination clicks for me.”

★★★★

– Bill Milkowski, Down Beat, July 1985

“A strong, frequently exhilarating work, the album thankfully dispenses with the rigid, formulated approach that made Weather Report’s most recent records plodding exercises in tedium. Instead, the quintet has produced a pungent collection of songs that are as fresh and invigorating as a dip in a cool mountain stream on a hot summer day. Bassist Victor Bailey and drummer Omar Hakim, currently on tour with the Police’s Sting, provide a nimble, constantly imaginative rhythmic foundation for Zawinul and Shorter. The synthesizer virtuoso and saxophonist respond with some of their most assured, concise playing in quite some time, spurred on by percussionist Mino Cinélu, who accents their every move with perfectly timed accents. Several noted singers, including Carl Anderson and vocal sensation Bobby McFerrin, also make judicious contributions, most notably on Zawinul’s explosive ‘Corner Pocket.’”

– George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, April 14, 1985

“Sportin’ Life (Columbia) ★★ As usual, the level of musicianship is high and the sonics are state of the art. But also as usual, there is less here than meets the ear. The remarkable Bobby McFerrin, who guest-stars on four tracks, washes out in the rinse of Josef Zawinul’s synthesizers, just as saxophonist Wayne Shorter has these many years.”

– Ken Tucker and Francis Davis, Philadelphia Inquirer, April 12, 1985

Awards

Billboard chart peak: Jazz Albums, 13; Top 200 Albums, 191.

6 thoughts on “Sportin’ Life

  1. Pingback: Crate Digger’s Gold: Weather Report – Sportin’ Life (1985) | Axl's Catch Groove

  2. Pingback: Zawinul Online » Blog Archive » Zawinul Rehearsing At Home, 1985

  3. Peter

    After two Weather Report boxes 1971-1975 and 1976-1982, respectively, one would almost expect Sony Music/Legacy to prepare and release also the final box, 1983-1986, containing the Priocession, Domino Theory, Sportin’ Life and This Is This. Unfortunately, as it seems, this will not going to happen.

    Reply
  4. Matt

    Great website, have just discovered it. I once heard a vocal version of ‘Indiscretions’ by a vocal group but have never been able to find out who it was – can anyone help?

    Reply
  5. curt Post author

    Matt, I’m not aware of a vocal version of “Indiscretions.” Let us know if you find anything!

    Reply
  6. Jon

    From this album my favourite track is Pearl On The Half Shell and Face On The Barroom Floor. The rest are not up to par with their better material. The rest just don’t do anything for me. That said those tunes do have some untapped potential – not evident until later versions on other albums post-Weather Report:

    * Indiscretions probably has it’s best version found on Zawinul’s “World Tour” double CD set released I think in the early half of the 1990′s. There are some vocals on that particular version.

    * Ice Pick Willy best version is on the Etc album where Zawinul is playing along with a lot of horns and strings. Really amazing groove on that release.

    The production on this album at this point is really dated. I don’t mind that dated production on the 1970′s outings, because the analogue synths have a more organic feel to them. I wish I would have begun listening to these guys back in the 1970′s so I could appreciate how cool this production might have struck me back then when a lot of groups were making the transition to digital synths.

    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>