REMEMBERING JACO / ERSKINE-GUILLAUME-SOURINE-LEGRÈNE-CHARLIER: Introduction, Interludes 1 & 2. Conclusion.* PASTORIUS: Used to Be a Cha Cha. Barbary Coast. Medley: PASTORIUS: Liberty City/KAPER: Invitation. PASTORIUS: Continuum. Medley: PASTORIUS: Kuru/HANCOCK: Speak Like a Child. PASTORIUS: Teen Town. Three Views of a Secret. SHORTER: Palladium. WAYMAN-LEWIS-MORRIS: Fanny Mae / Multiquarium Big Band: Claude Egéa, Pierre Drevet, Yves Le Carboulec, tpt/fl-hn; Denis Leloup, Damien Verberve, Philippe Georges, tb; Didier Havet, bs-tb; Stéphane Chausse, a-sax/cl/bs-cl; Lucas Saint-Cricq, a-sax/s-sax; Stéphane Guillaume, s-sax/t-sax/fl; Frédéric Borey, t-sax; Frédéric Couderc, bar-sax; Pierre Perchaud, gt; Benoit Sourisse, pno/el-org/Fender Rhodes; Bireli Legrène, bs-gt; André Charlier, dm; Nicolas Charlier, perc; *Peter Erskine, narr; Yannick Boudruche, voc / Naïve Jazz NJ 7195
Jaco Pastorius (1951-1987) was a meteor in the jazz world, an electric bass guitarist whose accompaniments and solos were so startling and original that they sometimes overshadowed the leaders of the bands he played in (such as Weather Report). On this album, percussionists André and Nicolas Charlier, in conjunction with keyboard player Benoir Sourisse, decided to form a big band to pay tribute to Pastorius by playing several of his own compositions. As an additional inspiration, they selected Peter Erskine, who had been Weather Report’s drummer during the Pastorius era, as narrator and Bireli Legrène, the virtuoso Gypsy jazz guitarist, to assume Pastorius’ role on electric bass guitar.
Although I am not and never have been a big fan of electrco-acoustic or roc-inspired jazz, I too was in awe of Pastorius’ talent. Fortunately, despite the rock-pop grooves, the Multiquarium Big Band sticks largely to a jazz orientation in orchestration and solos. And yes, Legrène does a fabulous job when you consider that Pastorius really was a once-in-a-lifetime sort of player, just as Bix Beiderbecke and Charlie Parker were. A lot of imitators have come close to all three, and to this list I would now add Legrène whose solos are not merely virtuosic but highly imaginative, though none of those three giants of jazz have ever been wholly and successfully imitated.
But what I liked most about this CD was that the band was so good from start to finish, as were all of the soloists. Not one of them “coasts” on this session; they’re pushing the limits of their talent in solo after solo, with the result that the music comes alive. I couldn’t help comparing, in my mind, the very well-intentioned but somehow staid tribute to Charlie Parker done by alto saxist Tineke Postma and the Eric Ineke JazzXpress: respectful, clean, very professional performances, yet inevitably lacking the underlying guts and spirit of the original. Even in those moments when Legrène is just playing steady accompaniment, as in Barbary Coast, he manages to keep the band jumping, as Jaco did…and again and again, each and every soloist is pushing himself to the limit.
Yet perhaps the real spark behind this band comes from the Charliers on percussion. They never stop kicking this band along, never let the musicians coast, and in the end do Pastorius proud by capturing his spirit as much as glimpses of what he was able to do with a bass guitar. Although this isn’t a “ghost band” in the strict sense of the word, since Weather Report was much smaller in size, it plays with a spirit that almost no ghost band has ever achieved (except, I think, for the few years the Glenn Miller orchestra was led by clarinetist Buddy de France, who pushed them in new directions). There are also moments, such as in the medley of Liberty and Invitation, where the basic beat is closer to a fast Latin feel, almost like some of Stan Kenton’s better recordings, and not so strongly tied to funk-fusion. Legrène playing on this track, particularly his consistent double-time runs underneath the ensemble and the brilliant trombone solo by Denis Leloup, is simply astounding, and his solo is close to Pastorius’ own style. Stéphane Guillaume is no slouch on the soprano sax, either.
Indeed, without slighting the astonishing abilities of these band musicians in the least, I’d say that Legrène was the single biggest surprise to me…not because I underestimated his abilities as a guitarist (I knew he was excellent) but simply because transitioning to electric bass guitar is not always easy for someone who is used to playing solo acoustic six-string guitar. But bless his little Gypsy heart, he makes the transition as easily as if he’d been doing it all his life, and in fact I’ve just run across a YouTube video of him playing electric bass guitar from 2012. Following him from track to track, you just become more amazed at his talent. The man can flat-out play. Another stunning track for Legrène is Continuum, a slow piece which consists mostly of bass guitar solo, but to be honest he’s just brilliant throughout the entire set.
Whether or not your proclivity is towards fusion or not, if you’re a jazz lover you’ve got to hear this CD. To my mind, it just misses the high water mark of one of my “What a Performance” awards, which is saying a great deal. Every track and every solo is a gem.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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