The Jaco Project
In the parlance
of players there was, quite simply, the bass before Jaco and the bass
after Jaco. No other figure of his time so dramatically impacted on bass
players and the course of music in general as did Jaco Pastorius during
his brief but astonishing career. With the 1976 release of his groundbreaking
self-titled debut, a bold showcase of his unprecedented facility and boundless
imagination, Jaco single-handedly revolutionized the role of the electric
bass guitar for all time, liberating it from strictly low-end time-keeping
duty by putting it right up front with the horns, guitars, trumpets and
piano and letting it wail with as much abandon, brains, heart and soul
as any other instrument in jazz. And he continued pushing the boundaries
as both virtuosic player and accomplished composer through his six-year
stint with Weather Report (January of '76 through January of '82) and
subsequent recordings and tours as a leader of his Word of Mouth bands.
By the time he left the planet on September 21, 1987, just ten weeks short
of his 36th birthday, Jaco had amassed a body of work that still stands
as the Holy Grail among bassists. Today both his legend and legacy loom
As bassist Brian Bromberg put it, "Jaco's got an aura that's just
unbelievable. He's in a class unto himself and always will be. With all
the great bass players who have come on the scene in the past 25 years,
there hasn't been anybody in my estimation that has even come remotely
close to what Jaco did on the bass. "He could say more in one
note than most any musician I've ever heard on any instrument."
Given that kind of imposing stature, pulling off a Jaco tribute project
-- a full recording of material composed by or closely associated with
the late, great bassist -- would be a daunting task for any bassist, no
matter how accomplished or virtuosic. As Bromberg noted, "Those
performances were so great, 'What could I possibly add to the music?'
It's almost like sacred ground in a way. You don't mess with Jaco."
And yet, in undertaking
The Jaco Project, Bromberg did indeed "mess" with Jaco's music
while paying a heartfelt homage to his early bass inspiration. His renditions
of Jaco staples like the funky "Come On, Come Over," the gorgeous
"Portrait of Tracy" and hauntingly beautiful "Continuum,"
the chops-busting "Teen Town" and the suite-like "Three
Views Of A Secret" carry some fresh, imaginative touches in the arrangements
while still conveying the spirit of those familiar Pastorius anthems.
Take his version
of the super-funky "Come On, Come Over" (sung by Sam & Dave
on Jaco's debut album). While it is suitably greasy (courtesy of the soulful
call-and-response between Bill Champlain and Bobby Kimball) and features
an aptly kicking horn section, Bromberg utilized a five-string bass for
an added depth that wasn't on the original. "There weren't five-string
basses back then so he never played that low note," Bromberg explains.
"There was no bottom to the track. As producer, I needed that pulse
and that bottom, so I went with the five-string."
A more blatant example of tweaking comes on Bromberg's arrangement of
"Teen Town," which originally appeared on Weather Report's 1977
landmark, Heavy Weather. Rather than burn through the challenging head
at a breakneck pace, as Jaco did so brilliantly, Brian takes it at half-time
and plays the line on upright bass against a grooving hip-hop flavored
undercurrent. As he explains, "My God, that's such an amazing
track, where could I possibly take It from here? Play it the same
way he did it? No way in hell! So I played upright on it and slowed it
down and made it a little more modern-sounding. I had to figure out ways
of doing things arrangement-wise that really made it my own. I'm certainly
not going to try to out-Jaco Jaco or copy his thing. That would be ridiculous."
Another example of putting his own personal stamp on a track comes on
"Three Views Of A Secret," which originally appeared on Weather
Report's 1980 album, Night Passage. Rather than playing it as the waltz
time vehicle that Jaco envisioned, Bromberg latinizes the piece and
changes the time signature from a slow waltz to an upbeat seven. The
tune features a beautiful solo intro on upright bass, then midway through
Brian switches to fretless electric for some virtuosic blowing in the
second half. Bob Mintzer, a former member of Jaco's Word of Mouth band,
is also prominently featured throughout the piece blowing with Herculean
fury on tenor sax. Bromberg also takes some liberties with "Portrait
of Tracy" (from 1976's Jaco Pastorius) by arranging the piece in
five and adding strings and percussion.
Elsewhere, Brian renders "A Remark You Made," Joe Zawinul's
poignant ballad feature for Jaco's signature fretless voice (which originally
appeared on Heavy Weather ), on upright bass and tackles "Continuum"
(from Jaco Pastorius ) with a whole battery of basses, including upright,
fretless electric and acoustic piccolo bass for some particularly melodic
soloing. No Jaco tribute would be complete without a rendition of "The
Chicken," a funky anthem which saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis originally
wrote for the classic James Brown band of the '60s. Jaco's first-ever
recording, cut on a friend's reel-to-reel tape recorder back when he was
16 years old, was of "The Chicken" with Jaco himself playing
all the instruments (drums, bass, guitar, alto sax, recorder). He continued
to feature that tune on his sets throughout his professional career, playing
it on the bandstand right up until the end. Bromberg's version, performed
on upright bass, is suitably swaggering and features more killing tenor
sax work from Bob Mintzer. (Catch Brian's quote from Eddie Harris' "Freedom
Jazz Dance" in the midst of this mess 'o funk).
Perhaps Bromberg's most personal touches come across on his own lyrical
ballad "Tears" and on his version of "Slang," a solo
bass showcase which became a popular feature of Weather Report concerts.
Brian's "Slang" picks up on the funky repeated motif that Jaco
established with his primitive looping device back in the '70s, but his
inventive rendition develops into an animated conversation between fretted
and fretless basses. Bromberg holds nothing back here, utilizing two-handed
tapping and the virtuosic slapping technique that he is so noted for (neither
of which Jaco ever acquired in his own bass vocabulary). An alternate
take of "Teen Town," featuring a ripping piccolo bass solo that
sounds as raucous as any rock-fueled guitar solo, closes out The Jaco
Project in high-flying fashion.
Originally a drummer growing up in Tucson, Arizona, Brian switched to
upright bass in high school and eventually came under the sway of Jaco
Pastorius, the shot heard 'round the bass world. "I was a big Jaco
fan, obviously," he recalls. "I was an acoustic bass player
before I ever picked up an electric bass. In fact, he's probably the reason
why I even wanted to play electric bass because I was a staunch upright
purist then. But when I heard him play 'Portrait of Tracy' it just completely
freaked me out. That actually impressed me much more than 'Donna Lee'
did (Jaco's take on a Charlie Parker bebop anthem that blew minds back
in 1976) because it was so unlike anything anybody had ever heard before.
It was like 'Holy @#$%&*! I want to learn how to do that!"
Brian would eventually make a personal connection with Pastorius in the
early '80s. As he recalls, "First time he heard me play I didn't
even know he was there. He snuck into a club when I was playing with Monty
Alexander in Florida many years ago at a place called Arthur's Steakhouse.
That must've been '81 or '82. And then I met him in Phoenix when he came
to town with his Word of Mouth big band in '83. Alex Foster was in the
band and I knew Alex from playing with him in New York. So Alex introduced
me to Jaco and I was surprised when he said he already knew me. We ended
up hanging out after the gig until four or five o'clock in the morning,
just playing. And I have to tell you, man...when all the people left and
all the screaming was done and the band split and it was just me and him
hanging out, he became a different person. And his playing in that intimate
setting was incredible. His playing on stage was always amazing but when
it was just Jaco and me, his playing was breathtaking. And as we were
playing I just had to stop. I actually stopped playing and just stood
there and listened to him because the music was so remarkable. It wasn't
about pyrotechnics or anything, it was just him with his ridiculous ears
playing this incredibly beautiful music, and I just stood there in awe.
That was my first real hang with him. I saw him in New York a couple of
times over the years after that, but that first encounter with Jaco was
Bromberg mentioned that one of his aims in undertaking The Jaco Project
was to help expose Jaco's music to a new audience. "One of the things
that I thought would be really cool was if some of these tunes might possibly
break through to smooth jazz radio and have so many people that
would never ever have heard of Jaco or his music actually hearing it for
the first time. For me to be able to make that happen, to spread
the word about Jaco and his music and reach a whole audience that's never
even heard of him...that would be an incredible honor."
Clearly, Jaco's music stands on its own and has stood the test of time.
For his part, Brian Bromberg is just another die-hard Jaco fan who is
hoping that more people will "Come On, Come Over" and make the
discovery of this great, timeless music from the pen of the self-proclaimed
"World's Greatest Bass Player."