"..and I'm the greatest bass player in the world."
Big words, eh?
Jaco Pastorius didn't just make himself known by sharing the above statement with everyone who'd listen, however: he was (and remains) an unparalleled musical giant because it was quite simply the truth. The first track of his self-titled debut alone is a stunning jaw-dropper, a bare-bones rearrangement of Miles Davis's "Donna Lee" where Jaco's bass handles all the voices and harmonies in one unbelievable tasty dance of fretwork. (Maybe that's not the best word since his trademark bass had its frets removed, but nevermind.) Jaco's onmivorous musical mind meant that he wasn't content just to become a virtuoso player; he brought the bass to lead-instrument possibilities it had never seen before and his talents extended to brilliant composition & arrangements as well. Add to that the fact that he was 24 years old when this album saw the light of day, and.. the mind just boggles.
Besides that scorching opener, this disc offers a wildly colorful ride with a different face and mood for each track. "Come On, Come Over" is 70s soul/funk with Sam & Dave dropping in for the album's only vocals. "Continuum" and "Portrait of Tracy" are gorgeous ballads.. the former a small-band gem with the bass as lead voice, the latter a breathtaking solo. "Okonkole Y Trompa" is groovy and mysterious with perhaps a hint of some kind of black magic; "Opus Pocus" is a slow-bouncing tropical romp full of steel drums and some (perhaps dated) electric piano. "Cha-Cha" continues that feeling, replacing those tones with some sprite-like piccolo and flute that flit exuberantly all over the place, not to mention some brilliant Herbie Hancock piano work. "Forgotten Love" adds to the somewhat-overdone factor with a seventeen-piece string section backing Hancock (JP doesn't play), but it shows off Jaco's skills as a writer perhaps more than any other selection here. Through it all the bass playing is phenomenal and unmatched, whether he's blending with the crowd or coming out in front to let his instrumental voice soar.
The mood overall is largely tropical (there are plenty of congas), and the prevailing spirit is one of joy and playfulness. If its electric-piano tones and occasionally overdone strings might make it sound somewhat dated in spots, I for one don't hold that against it. The level of sheer creativity and brilliance that went into making this album.. not to mention the virtuosity to pull it all off and the collective straightforwardness to avoid sounding flashy or pretentious.. shouldn't be missed. If you want more of an electric fusion experience you can go for Word of Mouth or the Birthday Concert disc also, but if you want a variety-packed glimpse into the development of a musical genius and don't mind some decidedly 70s elements, pop for this LP and prepare to get carried away.
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