"I'm a punk from Florida," said John Francis "Jaco" Pastorius in a 1977 interview. It was the year before that Pastorius joined the seminal jazz fusion band Weather Report and released his own revolutionary debut album.
As the story goes, his wife, Tracy, was hanging out on a Florida beach when she was approached by Bobby Colomby, drummer of the jazz-rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears. He asked her if she was married and she said, "Yes, and my husband is the greatest bass player in the world." Colomby, having been offered a production deal from Columbia Records, asked her to bring Jaco down to a restaurant nearby for an audition. Although he wasn't expecting much, Colomby was blown away by what he heard.
In the age of bass superstars such as Flea, Les Claypool, Billy Sheehan and Stu Hamm, as well as jazz virtuosi Jimmy Haslip and John Patitucci, it is easy to forget that in the mid 1970s, when Pastorius released his first album, the electric bass was not a widely accepted instrument. But Columbia executive Steve Popov was sufficiently impressed by what he heard to give Colomby the green light to produce the project, and the rest is history.
The album opens with a startling interpretation of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee", in which Pastorius is accompanied only by percussionist Don Alias. Throughout the rest of the album, Pastorius mixes infectuous, James Brown-influenced grooves, be-bop influenced soloing and revolutionary double-stops and harmonics. On "Come On, Come Over", a thumping R&B number, the vocals are done by Sam & Dave; the horn section consists of veteran horn men Randy and Michael Brecker, and David Sanborn. Drummer Lenny White and pianist Herbie Hancock are among the other jazz luminaries who contribute.
Two more introspective pieces, "Continuum" and "Portrait of Tracy", exhibit Pastorius's ability to write *for* the electric bass. On those two pieces, Pastorius plays the melody, the bass line and the harmonies; they have both become part of the repertoire of any jazz bass guitarist.
There are a few weaker compositions; "Kuru" and "Used to Be A Cha-Cha" are overlong and "Opus Pocus" features some intricate be-bop lines, but doesn't quite develop itself enough.
Nonetheless there is a lot of good material on this album; the variety and the energy cannot be ignored. While this album is considered the bible for jazz bassists, it has something to offer any music fan.