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Weather Report - Heavy Weather CD (album) cover

HEAVY WEATHER

Weather Report

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.68 | 182 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
5 stars The jazz rock/fusion category is perhaps the most subjective in all of Progdom. Some enthusiasts judge albums in this genre solely by the individual virtuoso performances captured on tape. In other words, they crave the WOW factor more than any other aspect. Nothing wrong with that. Others are more impressed by the mind-blowing spontaneous combustion achieved by combining the right mixture of musicians in a particular session or concert. Still others want the artists to push the envelope to the very edge of musical anarchy. Me, I'm too unknowledgeable and/or ignorant regarding the splendid science of blending jazz with rock that creates a living, breathing hybrid of both to delve too deeply into the mechanics so I just rely on how the recording makes me FEEL. That's why discs like Stanley Clarke's "School Days" and Billy Cobham's "Spectrum" never wander far from the top of my charts. They make me happy when I listen to them. Period. And that's what Weather Report's awesome "Heavy Weather" does for this native Texan of simple means and tastes. As far as it goes with instrumental music in general, the elation sensation can't be overrated.

The six albums this band made before this one have their merits/shortcomings and several are outstanding but they were all leading up to the creation of this, their masterpiece. I and several of my peers in the 70s had been avid admirers of the group all along but none of us was expecting this incredibly cohesive casserole of memorable compositions and flawless production neatly tucked inside such an arresting, slap-me-into- next-week cover illustration. The total package floored most everyone who was exposed to it and even a raft of Plain Janes and John Does who didn't know fusion from a contusion had a copy of it in their stack of LPs right alongside "Frampton Comes Alive." It was the perfect soundtrack for those heady times yet its pristine artistry will keep it vibrant and wholly viable for centuries to come. This is, indeed, Weather Report's finest hour. Having said that, I confess openly that I haven't heard everything these guys recorded during their esteemed career but I can't imagine that they ever topped this gem. Equaled it, maybe, but never bettered it. (I'm not through with them by a long shot so I'll let you know.)

They open with keyboard wizard and co-founder Josef Zawinul's celebratory "Birdland." If I were to meet somebody who'd never heard a note emanating from the jazz rock/fusion universe this would be one of the first numbers I'd spin for them to contemplate. I mean, what's not to love about it? Its infectious tempo never flags for a split second and every phase of the song exudes unadulterated joy. Alejandro Acuna's steady drumming creates an ever-tightening tension as he coils up the band's energy like a diamondback rattler ready to strike, finally releasing it via the orgasmic explosion of the tune's glorious big band- like theme midway through. The tight arrangement is immaculate and the track's pyrotechnic dynamics are breathtaking even on the hundredth listen. The entire ensemble works together in exquisite harmony and the six minutes it takes to travel from start to finish go flying by like the flash of a strobe. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who won't at least acknowledge the lofty plateau of musical sublimity they achieved with "Birdland." It's a song for the ages.

Almost any tune assigned the task of following that spectacular curtain-raiser would pale in comparison but Josef's "A Remark You Made" proudly stands on its own. It's as soothing as a stroll along a tranquil Kauai beach at sunset and Wayne Shorter's elegant soprano sax is soulful and fluid as it flies overhead like a seagull. Bassist extraordinaire Jaco Pastorius and Zawinul paint a backdrop for him in deep, sky blue colorings before Josef takes off and zooms into the stratosphere with a synthesizer ride to die for. (Grab your lady love, dim the lights and uncork the best wine in the house; this is made for romance. I'm just sayin'.) The finger-blistering, booming "Teen Town" is next and it's a fine showcase for Jaco to display his immense talent. He burns with hot passion from A to Z, yet the song is far from being just another patience-testing bass guitar extravaganza. As in the majority of their other compositions, melody is always held in the highest regard and they never forsake its supreme importance as being the essential ingredient in their art. That endearing characteristic alone is what separates these guys from most of the herd. Shorter's "Harlequin" follows and on this cut Zawinul delicately mixes acoustic piano with his synthesizers brilliantly. (The man was a master of his craft.) The song is complex and multifaceted, to be sure, but it's never so strange that it leaves the casual listener behind. It's totally accessible to even the novice. Towards the end Alejandro dazzles on the drum kit and shows that there's more to him than meets the ear.

Variety is unquestionably the spice of life and they really shake things up with the inclusion of Acuna and percussionist Manola Badrena's wild "Rumba Mama." It's a live track so full of fiery, over-the-top enthusiasm that it's damned near impossible to repress a grin or two during its 2:12 of existence. Don't be timid, just go with the flow and you'll have no regrets. Wayne's "Palladium" is a continuation of that Latin atmosphere, albeit on a much more rational, sane level. While the tune that precedes it might induce a spastic convulsion that would be welcomed and encouraged at an Aboriginal fertility hootenanny, this one will gently beg your lazy feet to get up and samba lightly through the kitchen. Once again the group's inventive, melodic lines rule the realm, dawning a happy brightness onto your psyche that'll elevate even the darkest of moods. Music serves many a purpose but none more life-enhancing than that.

Josef's "The Juggler" possesses a grace and suspense that befits its title to a tee. It shifts from light to shadow in the span of a heartbeat and the tactful interplay going on between the drums and percussion is bliss to behold. It's a delightful piece of music. They end the album with Pastorius' energetic "Havona" and, if this number is any indication, the city that lies beyond the pearly gates is a busy, bustling metropolis. The song is dense and intricate without ever becoming noisy or confusing. Zawinul's piano ride is a scorcher, Shorter slices through the challenging chord progression like a knife through warm butter and Jaco literally raises the heavenly roof with his bass runs. (Have I mentioned that his fretless tone is incomparable?) This cut has more peaks and valleys than a Six Flags roller coaster as it builds to a white-hot intensity and then, before you know it, the thrill ride suddenly pulls into the station smooth as a silk tie and it's over. To quote my favorite Jedi knight, "Exhilarating, that was."

Some may argue that this eclectic bunch sold out with this effort but I beg to differ. I think it was a case of the public finally catching up with them, not Weather Report kowtowing to the lure of commercial success. "Heavy Weather" sold over half a million copies for two good reasons. First, "Birdland" was and still is irresistible. Second, the music contained on this record appealed to people of all ilks because it's just plain GREAT. It's hard to argue against quality presented with this kind of class. This is a jazz rock/fusion album you can play in the presence of your wife or girlfriend and not have her roll her eyes at you in exasperation (even if she thinks saddle tramps like George Straight and Kenny Chesney hung the moon and planets) while, at the same time, avoiding feeling like you had to lower your standards to the sub-basement level. I still get a kick out of this album and it never fails to put a smile on my aging mug. And that, my fellow proggers, is worth a trillion times its weight in gold.

Chicapah | 5/5 |

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