Music Review: Weather Report - The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978-1981

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Joe Zawinul on keys, Wayne Shorter on sax, Jaco Pastorius on bass, Peter Erskine on drums, and sometimes Robert Thomas, Jr. on hand drums and other percussion. Four CDs containing live material that spans four years. Extensive liner notes by Erskine (who also served as the set's producer). This is Weather Report, The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978-1981 (Sony Legacy), and it is tremendous. Fans of this particularly popular era of the band's lengthy history, and fans of fusion in general, will find much to love about this collection of previously unreleased tapes. Fidelity is generally strong, with the soundboard tapes (recorded by engineer Brian Risner) obviously faring best. Occasional audience recordings supplement the professionally recorded material.

The set is not organized in chronological order, and in some cases exact recording dates and locations are unknown. The first and third discs are billed to "The Quintet," with Thomas, Jr.'s additional percussion. Discs two and four and four boast "The Quartet," sans Thomas, Jr. Highlights run rampant, but Pastorius fans will undoubtedly appreciate the eight minutes on discs one and four dedicated to his solo playing. Not to be outdone, discs two and four boast Peter Erskine drum solos. But most of The Legendary Live Tapes is focused squarely on phenomenal ensemble interplay.

When the band really stretches out on the longer cuts, a hypnotic spell is cast. A 1980 take on "Madagascar," recorded in London, lasts nearly 18 minutes and finds the band at their exploratory best. Shorter and his sax are in powerfully good form throughout, but check out solos on "Sightseeing," one of his own compositions. Late in disc one there's also a fascinating Shorter solo, recorded in Rochester, New York in 1981 "by someone in the audience." Zawinul's classic "Birdland" provides a concise example of how simpatico these four guys were when playing together on a stage. As he mentions in the liner notes, Erskine plays Almglocken ("tuned cowbells, otherwise known as Alpine Bells") on "Birdland."

"I had several of them and would set them up differently each night so that I might never get into any repeated note patterns during my solos segment," Erskine explains. Interesting. That's but one example of the recurring fine detail that crops up throughout Erskine's extensive new notes. Weather Report fans, The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978-1981 is unmissable stuff.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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