We’re going to start calling Resonance Records the “Babe Ruth of reissue labels,” because all they’re doing lately is hitting home runs. Whether it’s digging up lost treasures from guitarist Wes Montgomery, pianist Bill Evans or saxophonist Stan Getz, the label continues to add to the lexicon of jazz.
Two whole discs of rare concert footage from the genius of bass guitar is reason enough to celebrate. That Resonance is behind Truth, Liberty & Soul: Live in NYC – The Complete 1982 NPR Jazz Alive! Recording means that you’re in for a real treat.
Having recently exited Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius was bursting with ideas of his own, and the Word of Mouth Big Band gave him the opportunity to show off his new found freedom. For this performance, recorded in June of 1982 at the Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, the bassist assembled an arsenal of saxes, trumpets, trombones and even tuba, then pulled in soloists Bob Mintzer (sax), Randy Brecker (trumpet), Othello Molineaux (steel drums), Don Alias (percussion), and Peter Erskine (drums), as well as guest musician Toots Thielemans on harmonica. If the list of instruments seems a little strange, well, it was.
The concert was originally broadcast on the NPR show Jazz Alive! and hasn’t been heard since. For Truth, Liberty & Soul, 40 additional minutes that were left off the broadcast have been unearthed, and the entire concert has been remixed by Paul Blakemore, who engineered the original live date.
These performances sound absolutely breathtaking – far superior to a typical radio broadcast of the time. In fact, the Record Plant’s famed “Black” remote truck was used, utilizing 22 tracks. It really feels like you’re there in the audience.
While Pastorius is most-often labeled as a “jazz” musician, his vision extended far beyond any traditional labels. The Word of Mouth Big Band gave him a chance to jump from funk to Latin to jazz to rock.
The original performance of Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” opened Jaco’s debut solo album from 1976. Here, the song begins with, of all things, a tuba solo, before giving way to frenetic soloing by multiple people all at once. An unlikely duet between Thielemans and Pastorius on Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” is surprisingly reserved and tender. “Liberty City” gives the entire Big Band a chance to shine.
Disc two opens with another curveball – hearing Pastorius’ signature fretless bass play the opening lines of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” is an interesting thrill for sure. That it immediately gives way to steel drums is incredible. “Okonkole Y Trompa” is another cut originally taken from his groundbreaking debut. Here though, a full ten minutes is devoted to Alias’ percussion solo.
Jaco gets to show off his rock lead bass chops on his own “Reza,” which morphs into Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” in the middle. “Bass and Drum Improvisation” gives both Pastorius and Erskine a chance to stretch out with solos of over seven minutes each.
He certainly knew how to send a crowd home happy, ending on the R&B stomper “Fannie Mae,” which features the bassist on vocals as he leads the audience in a call and response.
The accompanying booklet is an absolute wonder – over 100 pages. It’s the kind of thing that really stands on its own. Containing bios on Jaco, essays on the origins of these recordings, and interviews with musicians and engineers that were a part of the recordings, friends, Jaco’s son, even Metallica’s bassist. It certainly serves as an excellent introduction to this legendary artist, but there’s also so much new insight, that any Pastorius devotee will be salivating for sure.
These type of stellar releases from Resonance have become standard fare, but let’s never take this for granted. The heartfelt care and attention to detail the label shows is unparalleled in any era. The fact that we’re getting this high-quality product in the physical-less era of 2017 is nothing short of miraculous. —Tony Peters