For any serious fan of jazz fusion, the release of Jaco Pastorius’ debut solo album should have come as no surprise. Largely self taught, by 22 he was already teaching bass at the University of Miami, where he forged a strong friendship with guitarist Pat Metheny, one which would lead to the two eventually recording together, issuing a little known LP (simply titled Jaco) in 1974. But it wasn’t until he became a member of fusion pioneers Weather Report that the young virtuoso began to make his mark on the world stage.
Jaco Pastorius, released in 1976, is a showcase for the bassist’s incredible talents, not to mention his maturity as a composer. Joining him in the studio were none other than some of the most elite jazz musicians of the time: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Lenny White, David Sanborn, Hubert Laws, and Michael Brecker. Even soul/R&B legends Sam & Dave make a rare appearance.
Kicking off with a cover of Miles Davis’ “Donna Lee”, Jaco pulls out all the stops with an inventive interpretation of this be-bop classic. The aforementioned Sam & Dave contribute vocals to the funky “Come On, Come Over,” throughout which Herbie Hancock and the Brecker brothers add a certain colour and texture all their own. “Continuum” points to his future days with Weather Report, while on Hancock collaboration “Kuru/Speak Like A Child” the two are locked into a synaptic duel to the death. No less than six violin players, three cellos, and three violas also compete for the listener’s attention, and that’s not even counting the string arrangement and congas. But incredibly, it never for a second sounds over bloated or pretentious.
The ballad “Portrait of Tracy” is one of the better known tunes from the album, on which Jaco manages to paint a picture on the electric bass that is as tender as it is intricate. Whether it’s the calypso meets jazz fusion of “Opus Pocus”, the Miles Davis inspired “Okonkolé Y Trompa” (co-written with Don Alias), with its complicated world music rhythms, or the extended “(Used to Be a) Cha-Cha”, with Hubert Laws on piccolo and flute, Lenny White on drums, and of course Herbie himself, Pastorius and friends never put a foot wrong, playing music that is both soothing as well as challenging.
What was originally the last track of the LP, the almost cinematic “Forgotten Love”, Jaco is drowned out by a plethora of violins, cellos and violas. And although composed by him, it is Hancock who actually takes centre stage, delivering an affectionate, sentimental performance on piano. The 2000 edition of the CD has been given the full remastering it deserves, with excellent liner notes by Pat Metheny, and includes two previously unreleased tracks; an outtake of “(Used to Be a) Cha Cha” and “6/4 Jam”, which, unlike some bonus tracks, actually enhance rather than lessen the experience of the listener.
Clearly, Jaco Pastorius was a maestro when it came to the fretless electric bass, and who died under tragic circumstances in 1987 at the age of 35. What this album proves, beyond a doubt, is that Jaco will forever remain one of the most pre-eminent bass players the world has ever known (or heard). The mere fact that he was 24 when he recorded it makes it even more astonishing.