Jaco Pastorius: Truth, Liberty & Soul—Live in NYC: The Complete 1982 NPR Jazz Alive! Recording
Resonance Records

Reissue of the year? Well, if it isn't, it's certainly up there, even if, technically, it's not a reissue in the usual sense of the word. Though much of this live Jaco set aired on an original NPR Jazz Alive! show (the weekly program aired on public radio stations across the US from 1977 to 1983), this 130-plus-minute collection includes over forty minutes of material not included with the original broadcast. Nitpicking aside, it's an indispensable release for jazz fans of all persuasions, not simply Jaco acolytes. Truth, Liberty & Soul documents in its entirety the concert the electric bassist and the NY version of his Word of Mouth Big Band (along with special guest, harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans) performed at NYC's Avery Fisher Hall on June 27, 1982 as part of George Wein's Kool Jazz Festival.

Issued in triple-vinyl, double-CD, and digital formats, the release comes with a fabulous 100-page booklet in the CD edition (a multi-page insert in the vinyl version) featuring photographs, essays (by Pastorius authority Bill Milkowski, producer Zev Feldman, and original recording engineer Paul Blakemore), and interviews (with NPR's Tim Owens, Jaco's son John, Peter Erskine, Bob Mintzer, Randy Brecker, Othello Molineaux, Jimmy Haslip, and others). Resonance Records not only deserves praise for supplementing the music with such a superb booklet, but for ensuring it reached the public free of typos and other production errors. Adding to the release's appeal, Blakemore, who admits he was never happy with the original mix, was brought on board to remix from the original twenty-four-track tape reels, resulting in a sound that's as crisp and clear as a modern-day studio recording.

With his incredible, seemingly effortless facility always evident, the one-time Weather Report bassist's a veritable force of nature throughout, regardless of whether he's powering the band with funk licks or walking; it's important to emphasize, though, that the release makes equally compelling arguments for his gifts as a composer and arranger. Erskine was as perfect a partner as the bassist ever had, and the drummer's ever-inventive playing on the set is phenomenal. Word of Mouth regulars Mintzer (saxophones), Brecker (trumpet), Molineaux (steel drums), and Don Alias (percussion) acquit themselves honourably, too, as do the top-flight players augmenting the core band such as saxophonist Bob Stein, trumpeter Jon Faddis, and French hornist John Clark.

Disc one in the CD release is straight-up fabulous from beginning to end. One's jaw can't help but drop when the ensemble charges from the gate with Bronislaw Kaper's “Invitation,” the bassist and company tearing into the material at breakneck speed and amazingly holding it together for the full thirteen minutes. Even at this early stage, the bassist's well-known self-anointment as the “greatest bass player in the world” sounds less like the braggadocio of an out-of-control ego and more a simple statement of fact. Following a blues-drenched intro, “Soul Intro/The Chicken” springs to funky life, its rousing groove driven by Jaco's agile bass, Erskine's double-time pulse, and the band's robust horns. Tuba player Dave Bargeron initiates “Donna Lee” with a multi-phonics-laden intro before the others join in on a thirteen-minute take on the Charlie Parker classic, familiar also as the tune that opened Jaco's self-titled debut in 1976. And that Zawinul-like-sounding solo that follows? It's Mintzer playing electric bass clarinet, the instrument's altered sound duplicated when Brecker follows it with an electrified statement of his own.

With Thielemans' inimitable harmonica added, “Three Views of a Secret” achieves a lyrical grace that's remarkable, never more so than when the ascending melodic line crests in that beautiful resolution; though horns and woodwinds distinguish the performance with supple textures, it's ultimately Thielemans, Pastorius, and Erskine who constitute the heart beating at this rendition's center. Elsewhere Thielemans helps elevate the rapturous “Liberty City,” duets with the bassist (his playing replete with chords and false harmonics) on the Ellington ballad “Sophisticated Lady,” and, augmented by a swinging accompaniment and Molineaux's bright contributions, delivers an appealing rendition of “Bluesette.”

If disc one's the more indispensable of the two, the second certainly has its moments, even if the momentum flags when extended solo spotlights appear, specifically a lengthy one by Alias to introduce “Okonkolé y Trompa” and stand-alones by the bassist (a loop-heavy turn that quotes “America the Beautiful” and “Purple Haze”) and drummer during a fourteen-minute sequence. With its strong melodic line, “I Shot the Sheriff” proves a natural fit for the ensemble, especially when the bassist and drummer lock into its dub-reggae groove, and the aggressive treatment “Reza/Giant Steps (Medley)” receives helps it stand out. Erskine's in his element on Mintzer's big band-funk opus “Mr. Fonebone,” the chops the drummer honed in his pre-Weather Report days called on for the intricate chart. Not surprisingly, the concert ends with Buster Brown's good-time blues-shuffle “Fannie Mae,” a rousing vocal tune Jaco had performed since his early days in Florida.

How great it is to have this superbly produced collection remind us of what a once-in-a-lifetime talent Pastorius was, and hearing the music presented with such clarity makes it all the more special. Those familiar with his story know about the unfortunate downturn his life took before his premature death in 1987 (documented in detail in Milkowski's Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius), but that's in no way the focus of the release, a few allusions by Erskine in his interview aside. In a manner befitting this deserving artist, Truth, Liberty & Soul celebrates the bassist, bandleader, and composer at his peak.

June 2017