The Upshot: No barrel-scraping collection of effluvia, but a vital addition to the slim catalog of a genius.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
For a guy as innovative and influential as he is, jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius didn’t record much. He made a handful of Weather Report records, sure, and appeared as a session musician here and there, most notably with Joni Mitchell. But he made only three albums before his death, and only two of those were studio records. Most of his posthumous catalog has been live recordings, some originally captured without intent to release.
The double-disk Truth, Liberty & Soul is a live record as well, but it’s a magnificent find. Originally a concert broadcast on NPR in 1982, it finds Pastorius onstage in NYC with that city’s version of his big band, with whom he recorded his second solo album Word of Mouth. For a guy whose instrument was usually out front in any mix, it seemed odd that he would choose an ensemble with a large horn section capable of dominating any arrangement. But at this point in his career Pastorius was more interested in advancing his career as a composer and arranger than an instrumentalist, and he was happy to let his bandmates take center stage. And no wonder – the core group includes saxophonist Bob Mintzer, trumpeter Randy Brecker, percussionist Don Alias and drummer Peter Erskine, all leaders in their own right, and the big band is littered with names devotees of liner notes will recognize. Late harmonica wizard Toots Thielemans also arrives as a guest on some of the tracks.
With so many talents to direct, Pastorius ranges all over his musical map here. He makes full use of the horns on swinging versions of his compositions “Three Views of a Secret” and “Liberty City,” as well as his signature take on Charlie Parker’s (or Miles Davis’, depending on what annotation you read) “Donna Lee.” Minzter’s funky “Fonebone” concentrates on the core group. Pastorius strips down to himself, Erskine, Thielemans and steel pan player Othello Molineaux on Thielemans’ “Bluesette” and Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff.” He also duets with the harmonica with a playful version of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” and with Erskine on a wide-ranging rhythm section improv that includes snippets of “Purple Haze” and “America the Beautiful.” Pastorius even sings on the closing cover of Mighty Sam McClain’s “Fannie Mae.” It’s almost a laundry list of the music he enjoyed making, minus any jazz fusion.
Superbly performed, the show is recorded with perfect clarity by NPR’s engineers, and packaged with an extensive booklet of essays and photos. Truth, Liberty & Soul is no barrel-scraping collection of effluvia, but a vital addition to the slim catalog of a genius.
DOWNLOAD: “Three Views of a Secret,” “Donna Lee,” “Sophisticated Lady”