Reviews

Bass Giant Jaco Pastorius Is Remembered in 'Jaco'

Image from Jaco: Original Soundtrack

If the current generation of upcoming musicians isn't aware of Jaco Pastorius, they should be. This must-see rock doc. cements that matter deeply in our hearts


Jaco

Director: Paul Marchand, Stephen Kijak
Cast: Robert Trujillo, Flea, Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Peter Erskine, Wayne Shorter, Jery Jemmott, Geddy Lee.
Distributor: MVD
Rated: Not rated
US DVD release date: 2015-11-27

Jaco Pastorius’ name is synonymous with three things: Bass, innovation and tragedy and all three of those come together in this new film directed by Paul Marchand and Stephen Kijak which reinvigorates the biographical rock doc. The main narrative opens during one of the more troubled periods of Pastorius’ life: He was down and out, living in New York City and unable to hold down the important gigs that had come his way so effortlessly during the '70s.

It’s the early '80s. His days with Weather Report and a loving first marriage are behind him. Gone, too, is his longstanding dedication to sobriety.

Brought into a studio for what was essentially an instructional video (released as Jaco Pastorius: Modern Electric Bass) he plays as beautifully as ever but he’s no longer the exotically handsome man who’d revolutionized his instrument less than a decade before. It would be Jaco’s last decade on earth and in truth the hardest times were just ahead.

From there, we go back to Jaco’s early life in South Florida, where he was raised in a musical household and showed promise as versatile musician early on. Within a few years he was gigging regularly, eventually coming to the attention of Blood, Sweat and Tears drummer Bobby Colomby and, shortly thereafter, the world.

He joined Weather Report (he was already in the habit of introducing himself as the greatest bass player in the world), contributing “Barbary Coast” and making plans for his 1976 solo debut, which featured “Come On, Come Over”, “Donna Lee” and “Portrait of Tracy”. He’d already recorded with Paul Bley and Pat Metheny in 1974 but this was the ground shaking moment the music world had been waiting for.

His rise, from there, was meteoric. Not only was he playing fretless bass (allowing for a great lyricism than most were used to hearing on an electric four string), he was playing with feel and dynamics that were beyond what most were used to hearing from a bassist. Yes, there was Ron Carter, Jerry Jemmott (who appears here), Stanley Clarke and others but what Pastorius did was something else entirely. It was something that, as Sting says, that recalibrated the world of every bass player on the planet.

He was also an ace composer, as evidenced on his debut album and his work with Weather Report, a band he continued to rack up recording credits with for the rest of the decade. Songs such as “Teen Town”, “Havona”, “Punk Jazz” and “Three Views Of A Secret” standing as material that has yet to be surpassed by a composer or player of this kind. But his time in Weather Report was marred by a tumultuous relationship with Zawinul who was, to put it kindly, dismissive. Chalk it up to jealousy or the kind of tamping down that mentors are prone to doing but it no doubt had a traumatic impact on the young musician.

In early 1979, while performing at the Havana Jam as a member of the Trio of Doom with Tony Williams and John McLaughlin, he began to unravel, performing in a fashion that friends say was uncharacteristic of him. In the years that were to come there would be bad behavior (Joni Mitchell, with whom he created some of his most sublime bass lines, attests to this), drugs, drink and a debilitating mental illness that was about to truly show its deepest depths.

Among the darker moments were a sessions for Pastorius’ brilliant, ambitious and forward-thinking Word of Mouth LP, which failed to meet commercial expectations as it met an audience that was not ready for it. The maestro was of course devastated and was soon wandering the streets of New York City, playing for change and engaging in bizarre behavior that put him at odds with the world around him.

We know this story of course and how it’s going to end but the filmmakers remain one step ahead of us, taking twists and turns that capture our attention and make us forget that we don’t necessarily know where the story is going. For a moment, as the third act approaches, we even have hope that maybe somehow we’ve been able to unwind time and bring Pastorius back from beyond. It is, of course, not to be.

Much has been made of Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo’s involvement in the film. Trujillo produced the film and appears onscreen (in moderation) and he is absolutely necessary to having the story told. Pastorius was a jazz player but he set the rock world on its ear: Without Jaco, there would not be Flea, Sting would doubtless be a vastly different player and Geddy Lee, among others would not have been able to carry the instrument as far into this century as they have. It's important to the survival of the music that it finds a popular audience and Jaco’s music truly transcends those boundaries, something that we’re reminded of again and again watching this film.

But this isn’t an endless parade of rock ‘n’ rollers. Those who knew Pastorius best, including his children, bandmates Peter Erskine and Wayne Shorter and Colomby provide depth and emotion to the story. In the end, Jaco is a deeply moving film, filled with breathtaking music, humor and an arc worthy of an old-time epic.

It’s worth sticking around through the credits as a host of name bass players provide their testimonials to Jaco’s genius and many more appear in extended interviews on the bonus disc. This is not-to-be-missed for music lovers of any age who are interested in any genre imaginable. It may make you cry but it may also make you reach for your instrument and practice deep into the night, maybe into the next day.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image