Sorry for the lack of updates these past few months. Things have been busy around these parts. Nevertheless, Zawinul and Weather Report fans have got to be pleased. First off, ESC Records released Zawinul’s new album, Faces and Places. It is an absolute must for Zawinul fans, and is perhaps his strongest post-Weather Report statement. (My People would have to be considered in that category as well.) Stuart Nicholson had a superb article/interview in the September 2002 issue of the UK magazine JazzWise, and describes Faces and Places as “one of the most important albums in Zawinul’s long and distinguished discography,” tracing Zawinul’s post-Weather Report evolution and the impact that producing Salif Keita’s 1991 album Amen has had on his music. “It was a revelation to Zawinul,” writes Nicholson, “especially when he learned that all the musicians from Keita’s band and Youssou n’ Dour’s band were all Weather Report fans, with albums such as Black Market having made a huge impact among African musicians. Amen, Zawinul’s collaboration with Keita, was released in 1991, and triggered a change in Zawinul’s musical direction, although this would only appear gradually as he evolved a new musical aesthetic.”
Faces and Places is blessed with the reuniting of Zawinul and the phenomenal drummer Paco Sery, who has got to be the drummer for Zawinul’s music. Syndicate bassplayer Ettiene M’Bappe is featured on several tracks, as well as Richard Bona, Victor Bailey, vocalist Maria Joao, and many others. I also notice that Faces and Places is getting good promotion here in the states. At Tower Records it has had prime placement for quite some time. I can’t say that about all ESC Records releases, however. It took months before Victor Bailey’s CD That’s Right showed up in any record store I’ve been in. And I’ve only ever seen one copy of it–the one I bought. I’d also like to purchase the new Dennis Chambers CD from ESC, but it is nowhere to be found, either. I guess I’ll have to order it over the Internet.
On the heals of Faces and Places, Sony Legacy finally released the long-awaited and much anticipated Weather Report set of live material. Live & Unreleased contains tracks from six concerts spanning the years 1975 to 1983. Some of the highlights include the only recorded version (that I know of) of Wayne Shorter’s composition, “Cignano;” an ultra funky version of “Cucumber Slumber” with the Alphonso Johnson-Chester Thompson rhythm section; some tunes by the band with Jaco on bass and Alex Acuna on drums, and Jaco’s solo rendition of “Portrait of Tracy.” Interestingly, there is no version of two of Weather Report’s more significant tunes, at least from a commercial standpoint: “Birdland” and “Boogie Woogie Waltz.”
I understand that the choice of material was ultimately limited to the handful of gigs in the Sony-Legacy vaults, thus eliminating the possible use of the many excellent recordings that exist in the archives of several European state radio stations. Nevertheless, Live & Unreleased is a most welcome addition to the Weather Report catalog. Listening to these tracks today only reaffirms what a great band Weather Report was in concert. To me these tracks hold up quite well 20-25 years after the fact. Let’s hope Sony-Legacy can license material outside of their own holdings and produce Live & Unreleased Volume 2. By the way, with repeat to the “unreleased” part of the Live & Unreleased, I understand there are a couple of completed studio cuts in the vaults, but they were rejected for inclusion in this set.
And of course, 2002 also saw the re-release of the Weather Report albums, Mysterious Traveller, Tale Spinnin’ and Black Market, as well as Zawinul’s 1986 synthesizer tour de force, Dialects. Sony Legacy treated these release right, with all-new liner notes and quality packaging. All in all, it has been a year of plenty for Zawinul fans.