Tuesday, October 6, 2009

AOTW: Mysterious Traveller- Weather Report-



I suspect not too many of you have heard this, so I think it might make an interesting AOTW- Weather Report's most consistently brilliant album, Mysterious Traveller, which came more or less at the band's peak. Beside the funky Cucumber Slumber and trance like Nubian Sundance sit pieces of unique strangeness and beauty. The album was apparently partially recorded in Zawinul's living room, with kids jumping around on the sofas, and mixed later in the studio, which may account for the intimate yet carefully produced sound.
I should probably warn the folk, pop and rock fans that they'll probably find it drearily noodling or downright irritating, anyone with a certain tolerance for wierdness, electronic music, prog or jazz could get something out of it though.
All Weather Report albums are eclectic, often to the point of being schizophrenic, but Mysterious Traveller probably manages more than any other to retain a certain mystique, a thread of cohesion running through disparate elements. And I can reveal that, although we don't know where he's headed, he is taking a breather in a rest stop quite nearby..

30 comments:

steenbeck said...

Oh boy, an aotw, too! Looking forward to it.

Chris said...

I will definitely listen to this. They're on my list of bands I should have heard by now. Thanks, nilpferd.

Shoegazer said...

Cucumber Slumber was the stand-out for me on 1st listen. Preferred the rest when the synth was dialed down a bit, am sure this was pushing the boundaries of available tech in '74, but some of it sounds a little forced & dated. The percussion and bass playing are incredible & Mr. Shorter is no slouch. Good call.

ToffeeBoy said...

Looking forward to listening to this nilpf. I heard quite a bit of WR in my prog/jazz youth - probably including this but who knows. I was never quite sure what I was listening to back then ...

ejaydee said...

American Tango sounds quite R&B-ish to me, full report after I've listened to the whole thing.

steenbeck said...

Just listening and it's fascinating. Could you (if you have time) set it up a little--I don't know anything about Weather Report...who is playing what? how does it fit into things historically--does this genre have a name? Sorry to be so ignorant, but I figure this is my chance to learn something.

Must...get...Isaac to...the....park....

Japanther said...

looking forward to this nilpferd (my computer takes ages to download anything at all), i've read a bit about WR in my ongoing jazz investigation over the past few months and they sound pretty damn good on paper....so I hope the sound lives up to the hype!

treefrogdemon said...

nilpferd, I must admit to having harboured anti-WR feelings in the past without ever having heard them afaik. But I thought this was really good!

nilpferd said...

Thanks for the feedback, people! On second thoughts, Treefrogdemon, I was probably a bit harsh assessing the album's appeal folk-wise, it does use a lot of guest musicians performing indigenous styles and instruments, and the "tone picture" style of Weather Report is perhaps best represented by this album. You might be interested in hearing the follow-up album, Tale Spinnin', especially the track Badia.

nilpferd said...

Steen, I'll try to fill in the essentials.. Weather Report's two key members were ex-Adderley pianist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who were active in Miles Davis' bands until 1969-70, especially on the albums In a silent way and Bitches Brew. They took some of the ideas from these albums- heavy studio editing, freedom of improvisation, electric instruments, introspective jazz rock- into a new jazz fusion band which they formed with Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous in 1971. Their early style was pretty much a continuation of the Davis '69 bands, jazz-rock jams with complex compositional bookends and lots of spontaneous interaction. After a couple of albums of pulling in several directions at once, Zawinul wanted to move towards a more "funky" sound, while Vitous was keener on more abstract, jazz interaction, with the result that the band produced the extremely funky "Sweetnighter" album (with the iconic 125th St. Congress), and Vitous left. However this brought their most productive phase, as they began to bring more diverse influences into their mix, and they produced a series of highly individual albums of what can be seen today as a mix of world music and jazz fusion, starting with Mysterious Traveller. Between 1975 and 77, when Jaco Pastorius joined, the band became huge and started drawing rock band sized crowds. It's this period which colours a lot of criticism levelled at them for being overblown show-offs renown for interminable jams, and they certainly did go over the top in their attempt to compete with the best selling rock bands of the period. The earlier period had also been characterised by somewhat woolly waffle, statements such as "we always solo, and we never solo" didn't help matters much. Besides Zawinul and Shorter who remained with the band until it broke up in 1985, no other musician remained for more than 3-4 albums, though percussionists like Alex Acuna and Manolo Badrena came and went several times, so with each incarnation of the band there was a slightly different thrust, though Zawinul and Shorter remained the creative core. Thematically with the arrival of Pastorius the band started playing more "straight ahead" fusion jazz, packed with references to jazz history- be-bop, Ellington, or show tunes, for example- and there was more focus on interaction among the members, and composition. Towards the end Zawinul became the dominant member as the albums got more and more electronic and eclectic, but the last line up still produced some interesting work.
I think looking back, the negative side of Weather Report- the pomposity and bombast, the oblique statements, their image as self-important gratuitous noodlers- has faded, and lots of great- and some not so great- music remains. With Weather Report it is always the moments- a tune can be heading nowhere, then suddenly a fragment will emerge which arrests you instantly.

BloodyParadise said...

Good call indeed.
Got me my vinyl when it came out - it sits next to my other 'noodling jazz' albums - like Soft Machine 3, and John Handy's Live at Monterey, and John McLaughlin [ Visions of the Emerald Beyond, Tokyo Live, and some Shakti stuff.]

Keep 'em coming!

BloodyParadise said...

Good call indeed.
Got me my vinyl when it came out - it sits next to my other 'noodling jazz' albums - like Soft Machine 3, and John Handy's Live at Monterey, and John McLaughlin [ Visions of the Emerald Beyond, Tokyo Live, and some Shakti stuff.]

Keep 'em coming!

nilpferd said...

Thanks, Bloodyparadise!
Thanks, Bloodyparadise!

I've just added Tale Spinnin' to AOTW, as it's nearly as good, slightly "jazzier" and less conceptual than Mysterious Traveller, and with more of a latin percussion feel.
An album underrated even among Weather Report fans, I think.

BloodyParadise said...

Hum, yerrss. A left-handed gemini = doubly digitally disabled.

Chris said...

I'm listening to 'The Man In The Green Shirt' and can see no evidence of human being or clothing. I'm going to be disappointed when I get to 'Between The Thighs', aren't I?

(Serious response later...)

nilpferd said...

Trivia corner- this was the basis for the title man in the green shirt (despite it looking more yellow in this copy)

nilpferd said...

And I suppose I should type.. click HERE to see more between the thighs.. instant 100% increase in hits..

Japanther said...

hmm...not quite sure what to make of it really. I enjoyed it, and will definitely listen again, but found it hard to pin down, which is no bad thing I suppose...I think I preferred the jazzy elements to the electronic ones....

Chris said...

nilpferd: jeez, that was confusing! I eventually realised that you got your 'Spill and CJ links muxed ip.
Don't try anything for 'Between The Thighs'. Please.

nilpferd said...

Ha ha, just messin' with ya.. no idea how I managed that, luckily I seem to have posted the correct thing in CJ. On here it was supposed to be a youtube clip with the cover of Milestones, with Miles Davis wearing the eponymous shirt, it was this album cover which apparently inspired Zawinul's title.
And lucky I didn't cross the Between the thighs link, what with the parallel email I was sending to all the parents of Mara's classmates in the latest round robin information about my english classes..

Ooops...

ejaydee said...

Yep, I like it all, agree with Japanther that it was a bit hard to pin down, but that mike take a fe wmore listens. I liked the bits that reminded me of Miles. I didn't listen to it one go, but i remember liking Jungle Book, Nubian Sundance, American Tango.

BTW, let me know if all of Detroit Experiment uploaded, I only saw a handful of tracks in the folder.

steenbeck said...

Nilpferd, thanks so much for your wonderful explanation. It helps a lot for me to know this stuff when I'm listening to new music. I always like some context. I've been thinking a lot about the saxophone, lately, actually. It's an instrument I used to associate with that Kenny G sound, which always seemed a bit cheezy/sleazy to me. (apologies to any Kenny G fans.). But I keep hearing more and more examples of things I've always loved that are very saxaphone-y.

nilpferd said...

Detroit exp. didn't load completely, only 6 tracks, 4 of which my iTunes thinks are identical. Haven't converted them all to MP3 yet but I suspect something went wrong there.

Cheers Steen. I had the opposite experience with the saxophone, it's long been my favourite instrument thanks to Adderley, Coltrane and Mulligan, so it always surprises me when people mention that sleazy sound- but it is true, hardly any great saxophone music was recorded in the eighties, it was mostly abused as an accompaniement a la Kenny G. for woozy seduction scenes.
Now, where did I put that great sexy clip I was going to use to justify what I just wrote.. oh, wait, I'd better send off this application for the church choir first..

Oh, shit.

ejaydee said...

OK, it's back in.

steenbeck said...

Oh, 1980s, so much to answer for...

I'm embarrassed to tell you how much music I thought I didn't like because I first encountered it in the 80s.

Chris said...

I've listened to both albums now and I think I prefer Tale Spinnin', although this may change again on future hearings. I do like the arrangements, especially when I lose the key. Not terribly keen on some of the synthesiser sounds but I suspect you can put most of that down to playing with a new musical toy.
The only stuff I have that's like this is some of Hot Rats and a couple of Little Feat tracks. I've noticed that Spotify has several WR albums, so I might explore a bit further and find one I love (rather than like and admire).
Thanks again, nilpferd. It's nice to see what you look like too....

nilpferd said...

Cheers, Chris. I'd recommend Black Market and Night Passage, to get a feel for the Pastorius years, though there's something of value on most of the albums, maybe a bit harder to find after Night Passage though, as the synths occasionally tend to swamp everything else.
Re my appearance, it has to be said that I have dental work pending.

steenbeck said...

I listened again with your jazz history lesson in mind. I liked it a lot. I suppose I liked Cucumber Slumber best at the moment because of my familiarity due to my nilpferd jazz comp. But I also really liked Mysterious Traveller, Blackthorn Rose and Jungle Book. I'll definitely need a few more listens.

This has been a busy week on the spill, but it would be fun to do a collaborative saxophone playlist. Maybe next week. I've enjoyed seeing what people come up with for falsetto singing.

Abahachi said...

I got the feeling from your summary history that you're not enormously keen on the first incarnation; woolly, pretentious, rambling... It's tricky; at any rate, I find it quite difficult to argue against those adjectives, and yet I actually prefer that period to this one. I don't know if it's because I originally got into WR because of Pastorius, back when I was gigging regularly as a bass player, and never heard anything earlier than Black Market. Years later, when I'd got into jazz, I listened to the early albums as an extension of my obsession with Shorter, and, as you suggest, I can hear a lot of the 1960s Miles Quintet in there, especially on Live In Tokyo. The stuff in between is still for me a link rather than something of real interest in its own right, but this may be just the way that I've come to it.

Have you heard the latest album from Miroslav Vitous, Remembering Weather Report? He has a bit of a hissy fit in the sleevenotes about wanting to return to the original conception of WR that Certain People abandoned in favour of popularist nonsense, or words to that effect, but some of the music is amazing - a deconstruction of Shorter's Nefertiti, a rhapsody on Coleman's Lonely Woman. A fair amount of aimless noodling as well, mind you...

nilpferd said...

That serves me right for trying to present a balanced view rather than "only" eulogising about the band- I actually love Weather Report (the first album, but also the later one), I sing the Body Electric, and Sweetnighter. I don't have Live in Toyko, but I've heard it and like it too. Because I was initially- before I heard the music- a bit put off by what I'd read about the band, I thought I'd mention the waffle, as it did colour people's views.
There are very similar sounds to Weather Report's first album on the Bitches Brew boxed set and the M.D. album Big Fun- Davis' band played a number of Zawinul's compositions in 1969, most famously In a silent way, but what irked Z. the most was apparently Orange Lady; this appears to have been one of the things which drove Z. to start the band with Shorter and Vitous in the first place.
I tried that new Vitous album, but a superficial listen in my local cd store didn't set me on fire, and I dislike- although it may well be justified by a lack of recognition following his departure- his recent utterings about being the "real" creative urge behind W.R- the album seems to be a way of trying to cement that impression.
For me the band always had interesting things to say compositionally, and nearly always managed to produce magic moments somewhere in most of what it did, from start to finish- I like a spectrum of their work, from Vitous to Bailey.