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Weather Report - Mr. Gone CD (album) cover


Weather Report


Jazz Rock/Fusion

2.75 | 126 ratings

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3 stars As I opined in my review, Weather Report's "Heavy Weather" album was the apex of that fine group's creative career due in no small part to the fact that they finally had gotten the perfect personnel in place in 1977 for those sessions. You see, one can assemble the greatest collection of virtuosos in the world but without conjuring up the elusive phenomenon known as interactive chemistry it's just another bunch of hep cats stranded in a room together, hoping for the best. Alas, that special lineup of Weather Report didn't last beyond that one record. "Mr. Gone," the follow up to that joy-filled masterpiece, is a worthwhile endeavor but it's missing the pizzazz and inspiration that made the previous release a trophy gleaming inside the glass case out in the hallway of progressive jazz rock/fusion. For whatever reason tactful drummer Alejandro Neciosup Acuna and fiery percussionist Manola Badrena departed the band and took a big chunk of their heart & soul along with them. They replaced Acuna with a functional, pedestrian drummer named Peter Erskine but didn't bother to find another exuberant percussionist and this album suffers because of both incidents. The result is an LP that doesn't come close to the bar they set with "Heavy Weather" the year before. I only wish it was half as engaging as the cool, imaginative cover art!

Keyboard wizard Joe Zawinul produced this sucker and he's without a doubt the dominant contributor to the project, starting with his "The Pursuit of the Woman with the Feathered Hat." It opens with a synthesizer pattern reminiscent of incidental music for those dated spy/secret agent flicks of the 60s and early 70s (think more along the lines of "In Like Flint" rather than suave Mr. Bond's adventures) and the obligatory high intrigue abounds. A more lighthearted atmosphere develops later on and it ends up with a happy tribal chant of sorts. Curiously, Wayne Shorter's penetrating horn is nowhere to be found. Bassist Jaco Pastorius is listed as the album's co-producer and his "River People" is next. His percolating bass line bubbles and boils in front of an electrified synth backdrop for a while, then they drop into a pseudo disco beat for the remainder of the cut. Zawinul peppers the tune with assorted keyboard phrases and the catchy tonality of the track keeps you interested throughout. Yet there's still no sign of Wayne.

Oh, here he is. Maybe he was caught in traffic but he makes his presence known at last on Joe Z's so-so "Young and Fine." It has a complex jazz progression, to be sure, but Peter's drums are kept so low in the mix that they're almost non-existent, depriving the song of any drive or energy. Eventually the tune turns into a cluttered jam, lacking the usual Weather Report charm and grace we've all come to expect. Shorter's "The Elders" follows and it sports a dreamy fade-in that leads to a notably abstract structure, moody but enveloping nonetheless. This is the kind of eclectic, ethereal composition that sets this group apart from the pretenders. Too bad there's not more like it.

Zawinul's "Mr. Gone" begins with an ominous, roiling synth note simmering underneath a suspended cage that emits strange noises before a jazzy, walking bass line takes over. Except that it's not our talented boy Jaco performing it, it's Joe on his ARP, making this come off more as a solo extravaganza than a unified, cooperative effort. He tosses in some mellow big band-style riffs here and there but the number never develops into anything memorable or exciting. Pastorius' fun "Punk Jazz" is next and it's one of the highlights of the album. He demonstrates his fleet-as-frightened-ferrets fingering on the fretboard explicitly as he sprints over Erskine's scatting drums during the intro and then they come to a screeching halt suddenly. After that they drift into a kind of West Coast funk R&B thang that brings to mind Steely Dan's wry attitude with bright synthesizer chording complimenting Shorter's playfully agile soprano sax. This one's a humdinger and added a full star to my rating.

Wayne's "Pinocchio" fades into what sounds like a tune-in-progress and while it's one of the most difficult and intricate songs included here it's also the shortest, coming in at a brisk 2:25. That's surprising because this isn't a particularly lengthy outing from these guys and it would seem that they could've expanded on this challenging piece of music. They close with Zawinul's "And Then," a slower-paced cut that emphasizes Jaco's signature fretless bass technique to its distinct advantage but then a flurry of Motown-ish soul singing enters abruptly and the spell they were weaving is broken immediately. Adding in completely unrelated vocals was a bad idea that should've been shot down in flames early on (and perhaps an outside producer would have done just that). Not sure what they were aiming for but it fails as miserably as the Bay of Pigs invasion, ending the album on an unsavory note.

I've always been convinced that musically a group is only as good as its drummer and I offer "Mr. Gone" as a solid example of that tenet. It's really not a matter of Erskine being sub-par, per se. On the contrary, I'd have to be able to hear him to determine that. For reasons beyond my understanding Joe, Jaco and Wayne opted to keep the percussion section way, way down in the overall scheme and, in the process of doing that, they drained most of the life out of the music they recorded here. Since I'm not privy to the strained inner dynamics, clashes of personality or expiring green cards that caused Acuna & Badrena to exit stage left in such a rush I'm left with only unanswered questions as to why. What I do know for sure is that while "Mr. Gone" is not a total waste of time, it pales in comparison to the sublime magic that Weather Report was capable of concocting. 2.9 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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