Bookends

A couple of recent additions to the collection shed some light on the very early and very late years of Jaco Pastorius’ career.

In 1974 Jaco was just breaking through. He’d been touring with R&B/Funk bands for a few years but was an unknown outside south Florida. He’d known Pat Metheny for a few years, and together the two landed a gig with free-jazz keyboardist Paul Bley. They made a record with Bley as leader and drummer Bruce Ditmas, though most sites (including iTunes) now reference this as a Jaco Pastorius record. Jaco was released in 1974 and is pure free jazz. Some of the songs end abruptly, as if someone just stopped recording the band in mid-jam. The playing is mostly unfocused and at times requires some real effort, but that effort is rewarded. Jaco plays without so many of the cliches that would come to overwhelm his late career, and Metheny seems to be getting his John McLaughlin on. The promise the two of them held at this stage of their careers is clearly evident. The track below is one of the more focused and structured, “Donkey”:

It’s unclear how much impact this record would have on Jaco’s future success. Certainly this record wasn’t as influential as his playing on Metheny’s debut, Bright Size Life in 1975 or his own solo debut a year later.

Fast forward ten years, and Jaco’s career is essentially over. He’d burned bridges throughout the music business, and the help he needed was more than any friend or colleague could have given. After a brief stint in the mental ward at Bellevue, Jaco spent some time in San Francisco with his friend Brian Melvin. During the time he was with Melvin he recorded material for four albums, one of which was titled Standards Zone. The title is honest, as the album features a trio of Jaco, Melvin on drums and Jon Davis running through tunes by Coltrane, Miles (an interesting, uptempo “So What”) and Horace Silver, among others. Much of the playing is boring and cliched. I couldn’t find much information on Melvin or Davis other than their brief association with Jaco, but they are solid players who have some interesting passages. Jaco dips into his bag of riffs regularly, and fans of Weather Report will recognize much of what he plays. Most of what is original is not up to his previously high standards, but the entire trio’s performance on the track below, “Fire Water”, is exciting and fun. To me, the funk of this Buster Williams composition is much more suited to Jaco’s style, and it’s the only track besides “So What” that he really rips on.

That Jaco’s playing with Bley was exciting and promising is no surprise. At that time he was an undiscovered genius, as yet untouched by the diseases that would later haunt him. That his playing with Melvin is still strong only makes it that much sadder that those same diseases would soon claim his life.

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