The Mysterious Travels of Weather Report

Weather ReportWeather Report. Columbia; 1971
Weather Report
Mysterious Traveller. Columbia; 1974

Weather Report – the everlasting jazz/rock congregate led by Miles graduates Joe Zawinul (keyboards) and Wayne Shorter (saxophone) – commenced in 1971 to further mine the fluid atmospherics which they’d pioneered with their benefactor on In a Silent Way. With Czech bassist Miroslav Vitouš, Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira and stateside drumming extraordinaire Alphonse Mouzon onboard, Weather Report takes measurable strides towards idiomatic unification.

“Umbrellas” bursts open with a primal Mouzon thrust that’s swiftly intercepted by the fuzzy strings of Vitouš. The bulk of the tune, however, finds the rhythm section muffled behind Airto’s tambourine spray and Zawinul’s springy sound-drops. Shorter takes the lead on “Seventh Arrow”, veering from soprano filigree on the first half to alto blasts towards the end; all revved by the manic bashing of Mouzon, with Zawinul growing ever-dissonant in the final seconds. Bookending side one are Zawinul’s initial forays into synthesized serenity: the icy, echo-laden “Milky Way” and the warmer diffusion of “Orange Lady”. Highlighting the flipside is the Miles-centric “Waterfall”, in which the Rhodes flakes of Zawinul conjure a glowing, fluid imagery akin to the Kilimanjaro/Silent Way sessions.

Following the half-live I Sing the Body Electric (1972) and funkified jamming of Sweetnighter (1973), Weather Report triumphantly hit their stride with Mysterious Traveller (1974), on which the Zawinul/Shorter frontline were now augmented by Alphonso Johnson (bass), Ishmael Wilburn (drums) and a then-fiftysomething Brazilian percussionist, Dom Um Romão. Zawinul had extended himself to an array of instruments – including kalimba, melodica, tamboura, clay drum and tack piano – that are tempting to decipher from the numerous layers of “Nubian Sundance”, a dense and lively extravaganza drawing from all corners: part folkloric fanfare; part Olympian anthem.

Zawinul’s quirkier side reigns on “Cucumber Slumber”, in which springy, trebly knob emissions pierce and jab from all ends of the speaker, replete with the crafty-handed underpinnings of Johnson. The art of ‘silent construction’ is beheld on the final track, “Jungle Book”, where motifs collide from the recesses of space – ocarina, sitar, tabla – to ensnarl a faint line of vocalese; alternately thrown afoot by a guitar/flute figure in a brisk G/F tonality. Best of all, however, is the slow glow of “Scarlet Woman”, in which the soprano spurts of Shorter flare like a crimson frock amidst the dark, lucid backdrops of Zawinul, weaving a most seductive sonic impression.

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