It sometimes feels like popular music comes in waves. Just like a tide, a genre will crest and then fall back in on itself becoming nothing more than another fish in the sea. Somewhere in that mixed metaphor is the fact people's tastes can change on a whim and trends in music are such a song can go from being a new release in the morning, a hit at noon, and history by the drive home from work.
While there have always been novelty songs that momentarily capture the public's attention, there have also been styles of music capturing the public's imagination for a short breadth of time, before falling back into the niche where it came from. The fact it no longer gets media attention does not mean a genre has ceased to exist; music has far too much resilience to just disappear. It just means it was superseded by the next "big thing."
In the late sixties, and then throughout the seventies and into the eighties there was one form that showed a remarkable ability to resist being discarded. The Fusion of Jazz and some of the popular music of the time seemed like a natural progression from the work that was being done by people like Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly and others. While they weren't prepared to make that final step across the line people who worked for them were ready, willing and able to make it happen.
Now-a-days we very rarely hear the term Fusion applied to popular music, mainly because radio formatting has changed so much there are very few stations left that would even consider playing it. F.M. Radio, which had been the preserve of album rock, was the ideal format for presenting this new breed of music. But when album rock gave way to adult easy listening it marked the end of easy public access for Fusion groups and their popularity suffered.
That's not to say Jazz Fusion has ceased to exist, it's just it's listening audience has diminished and is no longer the hot seller it was up to the early eighties. For the majority of the public something may be out of sight out of mind, but for those who care they can still find the music when they want. But who they won't be finding anymore is probably the first of the Jazz Fusion groups: Weather Report.
Others may have come after who were more successful, and others may have come before who hinted at what was to come, but it was Weather Report who took the first steps in fusing Jazz with the Soul/Rock sounds of James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly and the Family Stone.
Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul, the founders of the group in 1970, came by their interests honestly. Wayne has left his gig in the Miles Davis Band and Joe his in the Cannonball Adderly Quintet to start Weather Report. Over the fifteen years of the band's existence it featured some of the best young Jazz players of the time drifting in and out of the line up and created some of the greatest Jazz Fusion music to come down the pipe.
Perhaps the most famous of their line-ups was the one with the two founders being joined by the late Jaco Pastorius on bass and Perter Erskine on drums. With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that in the Sony/Bmg box set Forecast: Tomorrow of three CDs and a DVD of Weather Report's music, the DVD is a live concert featuring the above line up performing in Germany in 1978.
But I'm getting a little ahead of myself here when talking about this box set. The three discs of music take you on a historical aural journey of Jazz Fusion's progression as a form and the role Weather Report played in its development. Each disc covers an era in the band's role in evolving the sound of the genre.
On the first disc we hear the fist tentative steps away from the safe shelter of the familiar into the unknown. The second disc is the band settled in for the ride so to speak, and contains material from the period mentioned above which was thought of as the peak of their creative energy. It was during this time that they became fully committed to the use of all electric instruments, when before they had retained the link back to jazz of using an acoustic bass.
Both discs one and two contain a couple of previously unreleased takes; including an incredible live version of "Nubian Sundance" to kick off disc two and an extended version of "Euryvocie" and a never before released version of "Directions" on disc one. The special treats on disc three amount to a live version of "Port Of Entry" and a rap remix of "125th Street Congress" by DJ Logic.
Now we're back to the DVD, and it's a treat to behold the band in full flight. This is one of those infamous never before seen or released tapes that surface periodically of famous bands from vaults all around the world. It turns out this concert in Offenbach Germany is the only professionally videotaped concert footage of the band in existence.
In his notes on the concert and DVD Peter Erskin (drummer at the time) suggest there might have been one made by Belgrade Radio of Yugoslavia but it would have been destroyed during the NATO bombings during the horrors of the civil war after the fall of Tito. The music played at the Offenbach gig was an overview of the band's history to that point, so it provides you with the band's perspective of what they considered their most important work to date.
This means not only do you get studio version of some of the songs but live concert versions as well in a stripped down format. "Black Market," "Birdland," and "The Pursuit Of The Woman With The Feathered Hat" are the most notable overlaps and stand out as pieces to compare back again against the originals.
The icing on the cake of this package is the beautifully put together book that comes with it. Jazz writer Hal Miller provides us with a wonderful overview of the history of the band, using the three discs included in the package as points of reference: who played when, how it affected the music, and what they contributed to the band during their tenure.
Forecast: Tomorrow is a magnificent tribute to one of the seminal bands of the late twentieth century. Weather Report blazed so many trails musically that people still haven't started to walk them all yet to follow in their footsteps. Unfortunately, unless there is some radical change in the music industry, it is doubtful there will be any willing to take the types of chances required for this music to exist.
In the meantime we can just be grateful for what we have, and Forecast: Tomorrow is definitely something to be grateful for.