Twenty-four years ago Jaco Pastorious released an eponymous debut that collectively positioned the mouths of the jazz world in a state of permanent slack-jawed awe. The opening track, Jaco’s bare bones take on the Charlie Parker-penned Miles Davis standard “Donna Lee” blew the ink off the page labeled “The History of the Electric Bass.” The way his fingers furiously hammered away to the left and right of the central melody while somehow keeping it delicately intact was something not previously heard or ever again fully realized by an electric bass player, and yet it merely hinted at what this young Floridian was capable of. More than just a brilliant soloist, Jaco wrote the majority of the Caribbean-spiced pieces on the debut that proved to be the first rung on the ladder to achieving Charles Mingus-like status with his instrument.
This eclectic bassist covered some serious ground too: from the jazz-funk of “Come On Come Over,” featuring the re-united vocal talents of Sam and Dave, to the intricate perfection of the Herbie Hancock aided “(Used To Be A) Cha-Cha” and “Forgotten Love,” a classically inspired piece as heartfelt and moving as anything ever written. Whether the song, like “Continuum”, found him leaning in the direction of Weather Report, the groundbreaking meticulous jazz band he performed with for six years or towards the Africa-tinged swelter of “Opus Pocus” he played, wrote and arranged every style as if the music oozed from his very soul. Pastorious was of the truly rare breed of artists to whom all the standard musical clichés actually applied.
Jaco inspired more than future bassists, his sound translated to all instruments while simultaneously transcending and embodying the moment in time in which they were written. Michael Hedges once attacked his acoustic with a furious sensitivity, which clearly owed much of its voice to the delicate harmonics of Pastorious’ “Portrait of Tracy.” Substitute Adrian Belew’s Pastorious-inspired guitar-synth horn-like phrasings for Peter Gordon’s French horn on “Okonkole Y Trompa” and you’ve got the perfect model for a Discipline-era King Crimson song with Jaco providing the polyrhythmic bottom line soon to be considered (Robert) Frippian. The Talking Heads, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel all seem to have borrowed from Pastorius’ worldly handbook. He influenced everyone with an ear for music in locals as divergent as Africa and the classrooms of the most esteemed music universities known to man. His influence on music was unmistakable.
Nearly two and a half decades later this little marvel of an album, totally remixed and remastered, once again appears on the new release shelf. Sporting two extra tracks (an alternate take and a seven minute plus jam featuring Herbie Hancock and Don Alias) and extensive liner notes by guitarist Pat Metheny, this disc is poised to expand the mind of the new listener with sounds as fresh and creative as they were in 1976.
In the words of Mr. Metheny: “That this is without question the most auspicious debut album of the past quarter century is inarguable. As with all great recordings, the force of its value becomes more evident as time passes.”