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Weather Report - Sportin' Life CD (album) cover

SPORTIN' LIFE

Weather Report

Jazz Rock/Fusion


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3 stars By the mid 1980's, the subtleties of style and texture so well appreciated by fans of progressive music were largely lost. Digital synthesizers and drum machines had taken over a great deal of the mainstream, while the music being made with organic instruments was often subjected to a great deal of studio processing. In 1985, the 'larger than life' hyper- effected sound was very much in vogue in popular music.

Enter Weather Report with "Sportin' Life". While the group were certainly no strangers to pop-style production, they certainly sound here as if they were trying to make some real, organic-sounding progressive jazz. Sure, Joe Zawinul's synthesizers abound, and studio trickery of all sorts (including electronic drums) is in great supply. But the production rarely gets in the way of the music on this outing.

The musicianship is at the superb level we have come to expect from the group, with Victor Bailey (the fourth VIRTUOSO bassist to grace Weather Report vinyl) pulling out one smooth line after another, and Omar Hakim with his sometimes sly, sometimes bombastic grooves, as the basis for this funky ensemble.

Standout tracks include the understated, funky reading of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On", the opening tracks from both sides of the record - "Corner Pocket" and "Pearl On The Half Shell", and the frantic, electronic, stuttery "Ice-Pick Willy".

All in all, this record stands as another fine musical achievement by Weather Report, although it has a few clunkers. I highly recommend this record who still thinks that fusion died in 1978.

Report this review (#80137)
Posted Friday, June 2, 2006 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
1 stars 1.5 stars!

Exactly why the WR duo of Shorter Zawinul tried another album so late in the 780's is a bit beyond me. Contractual reasons, sheer stubbornness, lack of hindsight? The only thing this album achieved is to dismantle a bit more WR's legend. With an average stylised artwork, the group has a quartet vocal section (including McFerrin) that is supposed to illuminate the album, but is not used wisely and is present on four of the 8 tracks, plus more of the singers on the other tracks.

This album is an atrocious blend of funk and Caribbean music, mixed with some of the decade's bad ideas in terms of musical habits, although they avoid the worst like those ugly drum machines. But some tracks approach the muzak-level, and when WR dares to have a sung track (Confians), it sounds like a bad joke! And unfortunately, it isn't the only bad one as Pearl On The Half Shelf is atrocious with those synthesized percussions, and if it wasn't for the closing Barroom Floor (the only track not affected by this decade's flaws), the album would be simply atrocious.

Although this album does remain a WR album, (it probably isn't as bad as I tend to describe it), but it is disgraceful compared with the rest of their discography, with the time/era context most likely the prime responsible for such a poor effort. As far as I know, this is their last WR album. Best avoided, really!!

Report this review (#133012)
Posted Tuesday, August 14, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Sportin' Life came as a breath of fresh air when it was released in 1985, with Weather Report sounding more spontaneous, and Wayne Shorter contributing more than he had on some recent releases. The album followed two of the best releases since 1977's Heavy Weather - 1983's Procession and 1984's Domino Theory. My personal Weather Report favourites are Mysterious Traveller, Tale Spinnin' and Black Market, from the era that was the band's and jazz fusion's high point, and Sportin' Life harkens back to that era. I quite like it. Here's what the trades have to say about the album's merits:

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"The rap against post-Pastorius Weather Report has been that the group is too formulaic and Zawinul-dominated. Certainly the first three albums since Jaco's departure bear this out... Shorter's relative obscurity during this transitional period remains a mystery. But that argument falls apart with Sportin' Life. Shorter's contributions are indeed felt on this 14th Weather Report LP, the group's finest since Jaco went on to bigger (as in big band) things... For the first time in a long time, Weather Report sounds like a band. Of course, Mysterious Traveller holdouts may not care for the funk-and-vocals direction the group has taken of late. But that was more than a decade ago... This current combination clicks for me."

****

--Bill Milkowski, Down Beat, July 1985

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"A strong, frequently exhilarating work, the album thankfully dispenses with the rigid, formulated approach that made Weather Report's most recent records plodding exercises in tedium. Instead, the quintet has produced a pungent collection of songs that are as fresh and invigorating as a dip in a cool mountain stream on a hot summer day. Bassist Victor Bailey and drummer Omar Hakim, currently on tour with the Police's Sting, provide a nimble, constantly imaginative rhythmic foundation for Zawinul and Shorter. The synthesizer virtuoso and saxophonist respond with some of their most assured, concise playing in quite some time, spurred on by percussionist Mino Cinélu, who accents their every move with perfectly timed accents. Several noted singers, including Carl Anderson and vocal sensation Bobby McFerrin, also make judicious contributions, most notably on Zawinul's explosive 'Corner Pocket.'"

--George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, April 14, 1985

Report this review (#178132)
Posted Friday, July 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars "Sportin´ Life" is the 13th full-length studio album by US Jazz/ fusion act Weather Report. Now I recently stated in a review of Weather Report´s "Procession (1983)" album that Weather Report have never made a bad album in their whole career, but I guess it´s been some time since I last listened to "Sportin´ Life", because that statement certainly falls flat on it´s face after I´ve taken a listen to this album again.

"Sportin´ Life" is jazz/ fusion allright and it sounds unmistakably like a Weather Report album. So far... so good. The problem is that it sounds rather light weigth, stale and uninspired and to top off the not so nice things I could say about the album there is a horrible caribbean music influence in some tracks. Is it really a steel drum I hear? Dreadful IMO. Just take a listen to "Hot Cargo" to hear the worst example on the album. It´s quite possibly the worst song I´ve heard by Weather Report. There is quite a lot of vocals on "Sportin´ Life" compared to other releases by the band, but again they give the tracks a kind of easy listening feeling that makes the music hard to appreciate. I actually couldn´t find one track on "Sportin´ Life" that I really enjoyed. The musicianship and production is as usual of high quality though so at least that´s something positive.

If you think you can enjoy a light weight and easy listening version of Weather Report, "Sportin´ Life" might be just your thing. For me this was absolutely the last time I´ll take a listen to the album. Because of the high quality musicianship and production I´ll stretch though and give a 2.5 star (50%) rating.

Report this review (#254228)
Posted Friday, December 4, 2009 | Review Permalink

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