Album Review: 70’s Jazz Fusion Powerhouse Delivered Heavy Weather
By Andrew Ely, Clarion Staff
Weather Report, Heavy Weather (1977)
Weather Report a distinguished jazz-fusion band of the 1970’s and 80’s expanded jazz audiences when musical genres were emerging and musicians were experimenting by combining different musical styles.
The band was known to be a major contributor to jazz fusion, which started in the late 60’s following a period of time when the popularity of jazz had been at an all-time low. Their appearance on the music scene in the 70’s changed drastically as they began playing in larger venues, including supergroup rock bands of that time: Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
At the time, jazz was mostly performed in small theatres. Where musicians played jazz to smaller audiences, but by 1977, that had all changed for Weather Report as they released their album Heavy Weather, a record that caught them at the peak of their musical gifts. It also brought a more funk and rhythm & blues sound to their music.
The most notable members of the group were it’s two longest serving band leaders: Joe Zawinul (keyboard), Wayne Shorter (saxophone), both who played with Miles Davis prior to forming the band. Other notable members who were featured on Heavy Weather are Jaco Pastorius (bass) who worked with Pat Metheny and Joni Mitchell, Alex Acuna (drums) who played with Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney and other well known musicians.
In 1977, Weather Report’s eighth album Heavy Weather was by far their best work and their most commercially released album.
The album contains eight tracks, starting with “Birdland” which is a jazz standard. The first sound heard in the beginning of the song is the heavy synthesized sound by Zawinul. Even if you don’t like jazz music, it is impossible not to get a thrill anticipating the next moment of the song. Along the way, you can hear Pastorius’ undefined rhythm of electric bass, which made it one of his best innovative sounds. “A Remark You Made” is a melodramatic track with Shorter’s saxophone being truly pleasurable while Pastorius’ bass somewhat making your head turn side to side. Third track “Teen Town” is one of their shortest track in this album. It showcases Pastorius’ bass chops, the song has a major upbeat sound with some edgy vibe. The fourth track on Heavy Weather is called “Harlequin”. It showcases how skillful Alex Acuna is with his drumming as well as Pastorius’ bass line, which continues to give a tuneful upbeat. At the same time, Zawinul and Shorter’s combination of synth and saxophone is truly remarkable.
On Side B, the first track is the live recorded “Rumba Mama”. It displays Acuna’s profound skill with percussion instruments. “Palladium” is the track that shows their skills and giving each other some way to let the people experience full on fusion. In “The Juggler”, Zawinul’s synthesizer gives a groove that is relaxing and singular. To complete the Heavy Weather album, “Havona” which is the Weather Report’s last track, kicks off with a sweet synth from Zawinul and Acuna’s high and low drumming. In the middle of the track the saxophone and bass combination will surely move your head from side to side. This track gives way to the essence and feel on how Weather Report became a prominent Jazz Fusion band.
Weather Report certainly was a remarkable jazz band that changed how the public saw jazz music. Their desire to create something special and unusual created the vibe that leaves the listener in a state of contemplation. Their smooth sounding tracks and skillful musicianship has made other bands look up to them and appreciate how they give new life to jazz.