JJ 10/73: Weather Report – Sweetnighter

Fifty years ago Charles Le Vay was disappointed by Sweetnighter but found WR of vital interest in a 'fairly crucial stage of American music'. First published in Jazz Journal October 1973

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After ‘I Sing The Body Electric’, Weather Report’s new album comes as something of a disappointment; but it’s a relative disappointment which doesn’t dislodge the band from its top position among American ensembles in terms of unprecedented textural sophistication.

The guilty party is Zawinul (his chris­tian name now reverted to its ethnic spelling) who dominates each side with percussive epics which suffer from a bout of the Miles Davis’s. Zawinul may be a very fine pianist, but leadens these compositions with short riffs to the ac­companiment of percussive instruments which were too great in number to list in the credits: Moroccan clay drums, splash cymbals, Roller Toys, Israeli Jar drums, Chucalho, Pandeiro, Cuica, Caxixi, Castanholas, gongs, Vaibis-stones, Chinese tom-toms . . .; anyway, the result is that Shorter gets to say very little, Vitous is stifled from any creative function and is forced into a position of funky link-man between Zawinul and the aforesaid percussion­ists; and Gravatt plays only on the intro­duction to 125th Street Congress before retiring, and leaves the drumming in Boogie Woogie Waltz to Dwellingham.

Both these Zawinul compositions are aberrations as far as Weather Report is concerned – it’s just not what their music is about. Nevertheless, they’re not completely wasted and both have their moments, particularly Boogie Woogie Waltz, which blossoms into a funky drums and bass line after five minutes, and flowers into a beautiful theme played by Shorter on an electron­ic tenor after about ten minutes.

Vitous’s Will at once stands out as pure Weather Report. White and Shorter in­tone a langorous melody line which glides above Zawinul’s spacey, echoed electric piano – which he used to such great effect on the first record – and Vitous’s deep-throated bass. Manolete is a delicately romantic track in Shorter’s true style: his top notes linger magic­ally, while Zawinul and Vitous take off in unison to the background of tasteful synthesizer and Roller toy.

However much Weather Report load themselves up with advanced electron­ics, they remain the most sensitive of bands – a move which usually induces a certain sterility in most groups. Witness for instance Non-stop Home. Huge pealing bells and the biggest organ in the world working flat out are in reality starbursts from an electronically doc­tored sax and piano; a synthesizer slaying out chords and single notes echoed into distortion until a sudden cut-off work up, with the drumming of Gravatt and Dwellingham into a huge emotional upheaval along the lines of Unknown Soldier on ‘I Sing The Body Electric’. In Zawinul’s words: ‘Our music is sort of a little fairy tale’.

‘Sweetnighter’ does fall below expec­tations, but the music and atmosphere are as superb as ever, and as such, will remain of vital interest in what is a fairly crucial stage of American music.


Discography
Boogie Woogie Waltz; Manolete; Adios (21 min) – 125th Street Congress; Will; Non-Stop Home (22½ min)
Josef Zawinul (el-pno/pno/syn); Wayne Shorter (sop/ten); Miroslav Vitous (bs); Eric Gravatt (dm); Dom Um Romao (perc); Muruga (perc); Herschel Dwellingham (dm); Andrew N. White III (Eng-hn/bs).
(CBS 65532 £2.17)