At this point, the music of Jaco Pastorius has been virtually anthologized to death. Whether through his time with Weather Report, solo or the host of assorted artists whose albums on which he appeared, his iconic bass sound has been collected time and again, generally with the same batch of songs cropping up. And while it’s often fairly representative of his oeuvre, it can’t help but merely scratch the surface and provide an overview of his disparate styles and musical proclivities. Where some tend to focus solely on his revolutionary approach to the electric bass, others highlight his brilliant, complex compositional prowess. In either case, it’s made clear that Pastorius was a unique talent who completely shifted the focus and approach of untold generations of bass players exposed to his music for the first time.
Of the 16 tracks on the soundtrack to the recent documentary about his life, JACO (Original Soundtrack) features only 11 from Jaco himself. And of these, four are drawn from his self-titled debut. Forgoing any sort of chronological approach, the soundtrack is more scattershot and leans heavily on his most fruitful period of recording and performing. Curiously, nothing beyond 1981’s Word of Mouth is present. And while this essentially amounts to his last studio effort before what would become his years in the wilderness, there are countless live recordings, both legitimate and bootleg, from that decade which continue to showcase his highly influential style and richly melodic approach to the instrument.
Given the number of artists Pastorius backed to provide that instantly-recognizable “Jaco” sound that countless players have since attempted to ape, it’s interesting JACO features but two tracks, one from Joni Mitchell and the other from former Mott the Hoople vocalist Ian Hunter, finding him in a supporting role. While the latter was essentially a one-off anomaly, the former resulted in a rich partnership during Mitchell’s run of more esoteric material in the late ‘70s from Hejira through to Mingus. Here, Mingus’s “Dry Cleaner From Des Moines” is presented in its Shadows and Light live iteration, one which forgoes the studio version’s frenetic opening bass run in favor of a more measured approach. In the case of the Hunter tune, “All-American Alien Boy”, which features a decidedly Jaco-style solo, the remainder of the performance lacks his rhythmically dexterous approach and thus proves an odd choice for inclusion.
And given the sheer amount of material from which to cull, it’s interesting the soundtrack’s compilers opted for those tracks that appear on nearly all compilations currently in print. From his harmonics-driven solo bass feature “Portrait of Tracy” to the ubiquitous “Teen Town”, all have been anthologized before on far better collections. Because of this, the sole draw, if one can call them that, are the five non-Jaco performances, several of which are themselves covers of Pastorius originals. Indeed the collection opens and closes with soul-indebted “Come On, Come Over”, in its original Sam and Dave-led incarnation and as a new recording by the film’s producer Robert Trujillo’s Mass Mental.
Of these new tracks, the elegiac “Longing” by Jaco’s daughter Mary Pastorius is the most affecting despite its somewhat rudimentary lyrics. In any other context, it would be little more than pleasant coffee shop folk. But here it’s a devastating performance that hits the perfect level of pathos given the tragic circumstances surrounding Jaco’s later life and death. Rodrigo y Gabriela’s gorgeous duet reading of “Continuum” offers a new take on the familiar tune, taking it to new and different places with an intricate rhythm guitar part underscoring the floating solo lines. It’s a lovely performance befitting Pastorius’ legacy as a composer. When it finally devolves into a bit of frantic punk jazz, it’s in keeping with the late bassists’ aesthetic and no doubt a performance of which he would have approved.
Tech N9NE’s “Shine” features a Pastorius sample that ultimately has little to nothing to do with his legacy. It’s an aggressive slab of hip-hop that, despite its vocalese-esque opening phrasing that mirrors Pastorius’ line, quickly devolves into a faceless composition that has no place on the album. Similarly, Mass Mental’s reading of “Come On, Come Over” is an over-the-top train wreck that bears little resemblance to the original, save a few sampled horn lines. Rather than the up-beat soul number it was meant to be, here they slow it to a simmering mess that relies on a heavy-handed backbeat that does the intricacy of the original no favors.
Because of this scatter-shot approach, JACO (Original Soundtrack) does little to present a holistic picture of the legend. Instead, it’s little more than a meager sampler platter that, should it reach the right listeners, hopefully will serve as a gateway to the more comprehensive, representative collections already on the market (not to mention his stellar solo albums). As for the additional, new material, it would have been better left on the cutting room floor.
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