The first time I heard "Barbary Coast" was when I got halfway through the second side of a vinyl copy of Weather Report's Black Market I had just purchased, and I wasn't terribly impressed with it then. In this rendering, it was a three minute one-chord bass riff decorated with Joe Zawinul's chintzy synthesizers. It was also Jaco's first contribution to Weather Report's originals, so I just dismissed it as a dry run before he got it right with "Teen Town" on the following release, the colossal hit Heavy Weather. From then on I tolerated it as short intermission until the much better "Herandnu" arrived to close out the album.
And that was my view of the song for twenty-five years until I got a hold of the Word Of Mouth Revisited CD by The Jaco Pastorius Big Band a few months ago. Yes, there is a story behind this record.
Back as a teenager coming of age in his hometown of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Pastorius woodshedded with the Peter Graves Orchestra, a local big band that had a regular gig at a local hot spot restaurant there. About four years ago, members of this band decided to recombine for a Jaco tribute album but under the moniker "Jaco Pastorius Big Band." They then invited some of the finest electric bass players of the early 21st century to perform guest spots on songs either written by Jaco or at least prominently played by him. There are appearances by the likes of Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten, Jimmy Haslip, and Victor Bailey providing their own interpretations of the works of a man who to a large degree made their own careers possible.
The first song on Word Of Mouth Revisited that I occasioned upon listening to was "Barbary Coast" and this time, the first impression was much different. On listening to this rendition, I realized what made Jaco so attractive to Weather Report: the mofo had an immense sense of swing. Not so much just his bass playing, which was filled in nicely here by former Zawinul sideman Gerald Veasley, but the whole song itself. For the original arrangement already had the horn chart built in, but it was being played by synthesizers and a saxophone. It merely took replacing Zawinul's and Wayne Shorter's parts with the big band's brass to bring out the jazziness in this song. Veasley closely follows Jaco's riff, but the funky bass fits right in with the groove of the big band — just as Jaco had intended all along. It was always at the core of the man's genius to combine a contemporary bass rhythm with older forms of jazz so seamlessly that it sounded natural (take his stunning interpretation of "Donna Lee" on his self-titled solo album, for instance).
Truth is, Weather Report founders Wayne Shorter and especially Joe Zawinul had put swing into almost everything they played. Much of that swing may be masked by contemporary instruments and heavy African-based percussion, but when you deconstruct their songs, you can find it. A band that began life as a direct extension of the early fusion epics of former boss Miles Davis became a world fusion version of Count Basie by the time Pastorius joined the band in 1976 and immediately gave the group "Barbary Coast."
Upon revisiting this song and within this context, it becomes clear how much
Jaco Pastorius fit the vision of the group's principals even as he revolutionized the electric bass guitar. Just imagine how much he could have revolutionized jazz music as a whole if he had more time devoted toward writing. "Teen Town" and "Punk Jazz" hints at the unrealized potential… but so does "Barbary Coast."
"One Track Mind" is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.