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Jaco Pastorius: Live and Outrageous

The hyperbolic title is only half-right. The one-hour video of a live performance by Jaco Pastorius and his Word of Mouth band at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1982 aired for many years on BET, even before its jazz channel was launched. The video captures a fairly typical show from that group and there is little outrageousness in this performance. No backflips off the bass amp, no slides across the stage, no flamboyant theatrics, save Pastorius’ war paint. The most outrageous aspect might just be the unusual instrumentation of that band, featuring Othello Molineaux on steel drums, Bob (credited as Bobby) Mintzer on bass clarinet and sax, Randy Brecker on trumpet, Peter Erskine on drums and the late Don Alias on congas. The group was a truly unexpected hybrid of big band, bebop, Caribbean and jazz-funk, sort of like Pastorius himself. And they clicked in the service of Pastorius’ interesting compositions and arrangements not only from the Word of Mouth recording but also from his influential debut album. In performance, the band burns in electric hard-bop fashion on “Donna Lee” and gets appropriately funky on “Fannie Mae.”

The press materials proclaim this to be “the first Jaco Pastorius concert to be made available on DVD!” True enough, but Jaco-philes likely already have the concert DVDs of Weather Report from 1978 and of Joni Mitchell’s Shadows and Light, both of which Pastorius dominated in a way that sidemen rarely do. Leading his own band, he was more subdued, or at least he was in Montreal in 1982. In contrast to the bombastic Hendrix-inspired solo spots Pastorius took in those shows, he plays a sublime and somber version of “America the Beautiful” here.

Although its desultory camera work and editing make the video visually dull, the resolution is much sharper than I remember (must have been those early VHS recorders that introduced the grain). Unfortunately, the sound is just as compressed now as then. I never thought I would say that Jaco needed to be turned up, but there it is. There are no extras, other than a song list. This is a no-frills video of a no-frills performance. Ironically, given Pastorius’ legendary flamboyance, that makes it well worth the price.

Originally Published