Picks and Pans Review: Sportin' Life
On earlier albums this jazz ensemble recorded lengthy songs that began modestly yet pointedly. The pace and volume would then build with certainty. Over the years the group's songs have become briefer but no less affecting. All eight tracks on Sportin' Life hit the ground running. The nucleus of Weather Report remains Josef Zawinul on synthesizers and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. (The two met while playing in Maynard Ferguson's band and later backed up Miles Davis.) The shifting cast of supporting musicians currently features drummer Omar Hakim, percussionist Mino Cinelu and Victor Bailey on bass. Shorter's compositions are for the most part true to jazz traditions. It is Zawinul's brainstorming that sets this group apart. The Austrian-born keyboardist begins with a denatured, rarefied style on synthesizer. When he blends that clinical creativity with the breezy Caribbean overtones of Hot Cargo, the result is spectacular. So is the manner in which the soiree mood of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On? is transported from Detroit to Paris. There is more use of vocals on these cuts than on any Weather Report record since Mr. Gone (1978). Singers Bobby McFerrin, Carl Anderson, Dee Dee Bellson and Alfie Silas add most to Ice-Pick Willy, which is reminiscent of Pharoah Sanders. On the group's 14th album, Weather Report still lays down jazz that cuts to the heart; it just doesn't take quite as long to get there. (Columbia)
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