CD Review of The Essential Jaco Pastorius by Jaco Pastorious

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The Essential Jaco Pastorius
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Epic/Legacy
Released: 2007
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As Jaco biographer Bill Milkowski succinctly and simply put it, "there was bass before Jaco, and bass after Jaco." In fact, other than Leo Fender (who invented the bass guitar), no one has done more to redefine the role of the instrument...and Jaco died 20 years ago (incidentally, after suffering a beating at the hands of a nightclub bouncer in Florida) at the age of 35. To that end, every notable rock and jazz bass player since readily acknowledges the debt owed to someone who has already been proven to be one of the greatest musical legends of all time.

As with any career-spanning compilation, comparisons to early collections abound. The two-disc, 28-track Punk Jazz: The Jaco Pastorius Anthology (Rhino/WEA; 2003), for instance, covered much of the same ground, and in some ways did a better job of unearthing some previously unreleased Jaco nuggets. It also offered up a wider array of Jaco side projects that aren't represented here (Wayne Cochran's C.C. Riders, Little Beaver, Trilogue, Mike Stern...not all gems, but all worthy of study).

That said, Epic/Legacy's two-disc, 27-track entry into the oeuvre of the self-proclaimed (and rightfully so) World's Greatest Bass Player is worthy for a number of four-string touchstones not found on the Rhino collection, especially the former disc's under-representation of Pastorius' self-titled, career-defining solo album from 1976. As well as extensive liner notes by the aforementioned Milkowski – including an introduction by Carlos Santana, whose concert Jaco was ejected from the night of his death -- this set features seven of that landmark release's original nine tunes, including "Portrait of Tracy," "Donna Lee" and "Come On, Come Over." The Essential Jaco Pastorius also does justice to so many of Jaco's truly noteworthy collaborations, including his work with Pat Metheny ("Bright Size Life"), Joni Mitchell (the breathtaking "Hejira" from the album of the same name), Herbie Hancock ("4 A.M.") and Weather Report.

The final three tracks on the second disc come from Jaco's 1981 opus, Word of Mouth, the last being the moving "John and Mary," which features the voices of Jaco interacting with his young son and daughter over a lush, beautiful arrangement of bass, drums and saxophones (courtesy of his Weather Report bandleader Wayne Shorter). It's a fitting tribute and closing to another delightful -- if not essential -- collection that does justice to Jaco's legacy.

~Una Persson