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Weather Report: Forecast: Tomorrow

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We’ve seen Weather Report best-of discs before, not to mention the remarkable Live and Unreleased of 2002. But Forecast: Tomorrow is the group’s first box set, and probably the final word on Weather Report compilations. Coproduced by founding members Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter and famed producer Bob Belden, the box is part chronology and part historiography, highlighting the band’s aesthetic origins by including a track apiece from Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, Shorter’s Super Nova and Cannonball Adderley’s Domination. (Zawinul and Belden explored the Adderley connection in depth via their 2004 Capitol Jazz collection Cannonball Plays Zawinul.)

From this artistic soil, Zawinul, Shorter, bassist Miroslav Vitous, percussionist Airto Moreira and others grew an enduring body of work, examples of which fill the rest of disc one. Devotees will not want to miss the unedited, 11-minute version of Shorter’s “Eurydice” (with five minutes of rubato introduction) and a long-lost studio take of Zawinul’s “Directions.”

Disc two, spanning the mid-to-late ’70s, documents the band’s Alphonso Johnson and Jaco Pastorius eras. All tracks are previously released except the first-a 13-minute live version of “Mysterious Traveller,” recorded straight from the soundboard in Chicago in 1974. Disc three focuses on 1980-’85, from the end of Jaco’s reign to the band’s final incarnation with bassist Victor Bailey and drummer Omar Hakim. The parting shot is DJ Logic’s remix of “125th Street Congress,” which, oddly enough, is not as au courant as the 1973 original.

The tracks on all three discs are well-chosen and representative. But the bonus DVD, which captures the band live in 1978, in Offenbach, Germany, is reason enough to acquire this box. As a lean-and-mean four-piece with Zawinul, Shorter, Jaco and a 24-year-old Peter Erskine, Weather Report was a sight to behold. Erskine, in newly penned liner notes, sets the scene and recalls his time (paraphrasing Zawinul) with “the band that never soloed and always soloed.”

Jaco, of course, rules the stage. By concert’s end, he and Erskine are shirtless (and Erskine has enough body hair for the both of them). But behind the rock-star antics lies a bedrock creative integrity-yes, even on pieces like “Mr. Gone” and “River People,” unjustly denounced in their day as pop sellouts. In the end, it is Zawinul’s odd harmonic personality and sonic scope that leave the most lasting impression. The band members can hardly contain their joy as they take their bows-except for Zawinul, who seems above the fray, revealing not a hint of a smile.