JJ 01/94: Jaco Pastorius – Holiday For Pans / Live In Italy / Heavy’n Jazz

Thirty years ago, Mark Gilbert found the bassist's early 80s blueprint for Word Of Mouth unfocused, but dug his Italy gigs with Lagrene. First published in Jazz Journal January 1994


There seems to be no end to the fallout of previously unissued recordings, either bootleg or legitimate, amateur or profes­sional, from Jaco Pastorius’s brief, meteoric career. The sound quality of these three issues is far better than that of the memorably bad Walkman-style recording of Pastorius, Bullock and Dennard which emerged on DIW a few years ago, but when talent of Jaco’s magnitude is involved, such concerns seem secondary.

Holiday For Pans is an unissued dry run for Jaco’s early eighties Word Of Mouth band. It’s typical Jaco big band fare, presenting his highly personalised fusion of Afro-Latin music and jazz, and dominated by the steel pan sound which became his signa­ture. There are one or two good moments here, including Jaco’s moving Caribbean melody Anya and an arrangement for pans of David Rose’s Holiday For Strings, but most of this material lacks focus and energy. Half the record is taken up by Birth Of Islands (23.47), a combination of low-key atonal improvising and one-chord vamping which never man­ages to gather much speed or shape.

The two live sets from Jaco’s Italian tour of 1986 also have their ragged edges, but these are off­set by the often overwhelming virtuosity, which comes as much from Bireli Lagrene as Jaco. At their worst, these sessions descend into hollow heavy metal thrashing or mere jazz scale spin­ning, but such shortcomings are balanced by Lagrene’s staggering solo amalgam of baroque and rock on Improvisation No 7, the still brilliant combination of bebop phrasing and funk sonority which is Teen Town, Jaco’s lovely Continuum solo and a classy reading of Broadway Blues. Episodes like these make it difficult to quibble with the per­haps ironic self-importance Jaco displays in his announcement on Live In Italy.

[Holiday For Pans] Mysterious Mountain; Elegant People; Good Morning Anya; She’s Leaving Home; Holiday For Pans; Giant Steps; City Of Angels; Birth Of Island (56.55)
Pastorius (elb, bass pan, pc, kyb, v); Wayne Shorter (s); Don Alias (pc); Othello Mollineaux, Leroy Williams (steel drums); Mike Gerber (p); Toots Thielemans (har); Bobby Economou, Kenwood Dennard (d); Ted Lewand (elg); Peter Graves (tb); Craig Thayler (vn); plus the Michael Gibbs Orchestra. New York City, 1980-82.
(Sound Hills SSCD-8001)
[Live In Italy] Improvisation No. 1; Teen Town; I Shot The Sheriff; Continuum; Fannie Mae; Black Market; Satin Doll (50.00)
Pastorius (elb); Bireli Lagrene (elg); Thomas Borocz (d). Italy, March 1986.
(Jazzpoint JP 1031)
[Heavy’n Jazz] Broadway Blues; Bluma; Smoke On The Water; The Medley: Purple Haze, The Third Stone From The Sun, Teen Town; Star Spangled Banner; Reza; Honestly; Invitation; Jaco Reggae (68.30)
Pastorius (elb); Bireli Lagrene (elg); Serge Bringolf (d). Rome, December, 1986.
(Jazzpoint JP 1036)