music reviews

live in london

by Jason A. Bermiller

Weather Report

"we might guess that these concerts occurred after the 1983 album Procession or after 1985’s Sportin’ Life."

"Live In London is a curious and frustrating addition to Weather Report’s discography, but maybe that’s what makes it so intriguing."

Live In London

by Jason A. Bermiller

With the release of Weather Report’s Live In London album, jazz fans may find themselves frustrated at the lack of some primary info. Yes, we have the list of performing personnel, but nothing on who recorded, broadcasted or mastered the original recordings. We have no recording dates, although we might guess that these concerts occurred after the 1983 album Procession or after 1985’s Sportin’ Life. Now, that’s only IF the band was in the habit at this stage of recording pieces in studio before trying them out live, but, given Weather Report’s propensity of breaking the rules, we can’t be sure.

So, will the set of tracks on this Weather Report album draw listeners of this supergroup that helped place fusion on the musical map?

In a word, Yes, with one qualification: this is really an album for completists. The casual Weather Report listener will not be overly enthusiastic about this album.

There are some specific details that should accompany a live album to sate the desire for information for the sincere fan. For example, where a concert occurred is very important. The differences between Carnegie Hall, The Sands, Albert Hall and The Lighthouse make for enormous differences in the “placement” of the recording, historically and culturally. Also, committed fans tend to want to know the date of a recording, even in the case of studio releases, but especially in the case of live recordings. For example, when Count Basie released Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings at Fine Sound, New York City in May of 1955 and later was recorded for Basie At Newport at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival in July of 1957, and releases that live album rather quickly in September of 1957, that history tells as much of what was happening in Basie and Williams’ careers as it does about the milieu of the recordings.

We don’t even know which venue in London that these concerts occurred, although some have speculated that it’s the Hammersmith. Even worse, the longest track is simply titled “[Unknown]” and is by “[Unknown]”. For a release that boasts on the inner panel a three-paragraph essay by Joe Zawinul’s eldest son Tony Zawinul, filmmaker and executive producer of Weather Report’s 4-disc Columbia 2015 release The Live Tapes: 1978-1981, Live In London is rife with frustrating omissions.

None of the tracks are showstoppers like Zawinul’s “Birdland” or Shorter’s “A Remark You Made”. None of the tracks sport the “famous” lineup that included the immortal Jaco Pastorius and the marvellous Peter Erskine. Pastorius had launched his solo career before this live recording and was well into his solo concerts. Finally, to set this release in an even stranger light, the label Angel Air is not associated with jazz. Not that Columbia (now controlled by Sony) was solely a jazz label, but it certainly has a catalogue of some of the most important jazz recordings ever made. Also, even Blue Note (now controlled by EMI) would have been a more expected label to carry this release. The recording is fairly clear and far from sounding like a bootleg or poorly caught radio broadcast, so why a more prominent label already associated with jazz didn’t release this album remains another mystery.

Live In London opens with “Corner Pocket”, a track that appears on the group’s 1985 album Sportin’ Life. It’s a decent opener with very strong solos and a good amount of vibrancy. This live performance clocks in at well over nine minutes, almost twice the original studio version’s length. Shorter’s sax is irrepressible on this jam. Zawinul’s treatment of keys on this piece is stellar. It’s a respectable opener for a group with such a history.

“[Unknown]” by “[Unknown]” is a fiery jam of very strict structures, a Zawinul hallmark, yet it could be attributed to Shorter as it also has his approach to phrasing. The track cools into a trance-like pulse midway, an episodic landscape punctuated with chordal strikes. Concluding with a tight close, “[Unknown]” is one of the stronger cuts, but still not a show-stopper. As Chico Marx defined, this cut can be classified as “good noodling.”

Closing the album, the most curious cuts on Live In London comprise a sort of live suite: “Where The Moon Goes”, “Drum Solo” and “Where The Moon Goes Pt 2”. Vocal group Manhattan Transfer considered “Where The Moon Goes” the toughest piece that they had ever performed, partly because of the modality shifts and partly for how the 3/4 time signal bounced through the melody… yes, THROUGH the melody. It was classic Zawinul on 1983’s Procession. Happily, The Manhattan Transfer continued to work with Weather Report on the next three albums, so the two groups seemed to thrive as they collaborated. That fact makes this live performance even more puzzling; it is performed in 4/4 and seems to work around the parts that gave notoriety to the piece. Even the drum solo that sort of fuses the first and second part seems simplified compared to the rhythmic ferocity of the studio version. Why did the band make this choice? We will never know.

Sadly, the overall effect of the percussionists on this album does not add any value to the performances. While Hakim’s drumming is masterful at times, the contributions by Mino Cinelli and Jose Rossy fail to enhance the experience.

As the album ends, an avid Weather Report fan will have even more questions about the musical decisions throughout the two concerts represented here, including: What happened to the remainder of the tracks from these two dates? In the end, Live In London is a curious and frustrating addition to Weather Report’s discography, but maybe that’s what makes it so intriguing.

Live In London

Artist: Weather Report
Album: Live In London
Release Date: July 10, 2020
Original Recording/Broadcast Date: Unknown
Label: Angel Air

Tracks 1 & 2:
Joe Zawinul: Keyboards
Wayne Shorter: Sax
Omar Hakim: Drums
Victor Bailey: Bass
Mino Cinelu: Perscussion

Tracks 3, 4, 5 & 6
Joe Zawinul: Keyboards
Wayne Shorter: Sax
Omar Hakim: Drums
Victor Bailey: Bass
Jose Rossy: Perscussion

1. Corner Pocket, 9:38
2. [Unknown], 13:56
3. Fast City, 9:41
4. Where The Moon Goes, 7:08
5. Drum Solo, 10:49
6. Where The Moon Goes Pt 2, 4:00

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