CD Review of Forecast: Tomorrow by Weather Report

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Forecast: Tomorrow
starstarstarstarno star Label: Columbia/Legacy
Released: 2006
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In the world of box sets, you often get too much, too little, and rarely just enough. The box set itself is the Holy Grail of music consumerism. It shouts out that x artist HAS MADE IT and is important enough to warrant a $60 collection of shit you’ve already heard and undoubtedly own, with a few unreleased “gems” scattered about three or four discs and complete with a heady and thick booklet featuring essays written on the artist by various music critics, complete with rare and unpublished photos. You know you’ve gotta have it if you’re any fan of the artist. It’s what you’ve been waiting for, in glorious full remastered sound! And if that’s not enough, the box set nowadays spawns a full reissuing process of the artist’s entire back catalogue, complete with even more liner notes and amazing sound.

It’s enough to make you gag. Very few box sets have been worth their prices. And even when they are, they usually just wind up stacked on the shelf so you can say to your friends, “Look at this!” and then show them the big booklet and snazzy art design of the box. “Yes, it has every goddamn song on it!” you brag proudly. Next thing you know, you’re alone with the box, scratching your head over how much you spent on it, and gee, you really did already have all those songs and albums, and the one or two extra treasures weren’t all that great. Oh, well.

So here we have Weather Report with their first ever box set Forecast: Tomorrow. If you don’t know who this group is, then you’re probably not into jazz too much. Or if you are into jazz, then perhaps it’s not the kind that came out in the ‘70s that was often labeled “fusion” for mixing jazz licks with a more rock or pop groove. This whole genre is often traced back to Miles Davis and his Bitches Brew album, alongside Davis’ keys man Herbie Hancock and his Headhunters LP. There definitely was a lot of shitty fusion albums that were issued, but Weather Report always had a lot going for them. Mainly because the core group was formed by two jazz dudes with great chops, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul. The group would change members on nearly every album, but Shorter and Zawinul were there nevertheless, kind of like Becker and Fagen from Steely Dan.

Of course, fans will also be quick to note the tenure of other greats such as Jaco Pastorius, Peter Erskine, Narada Michael Walden, and Robert Thomas, Jr. to name but a few of the ever-revolving band. What this did for the group was allow it to constantly explore and expand the notion of fusion jazz and create some of the best work to come out of the genre. This box set collects 37 tracks from the band’s stint at Columbia Records. It tosses in two previously unreleased tracks, (the long version of “Directions” and a live “Nubian Sundance”) as well as a newly remixed “125th Street Congress,” here titled “125th Street Progress” and manned by DJ Logic. It’s often been noted that hip-hop’s beats may have had its seeds sown early in “125th Street Congress,” and so the track is given a special tribute here. Three of the tracks here are not Weather Report tunes, but tracks crafted from the genesis of the group, such as Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way” from album of same name, Wayne Shorter’s “Super Nova,” and an excerpt from “Experience in E” from Cannonball Adderley’s Domination album.

There’s also a live DVD included here, featuring a show taped on September 28, 1978 at the Stadthalle in Offenbach, Germany. The lineup of the group at this time includes Wayne Shorter on saxes, Joe Zawinul on keyboards, Jaco Pastorius on bass, and Peter Erskine on drums. For those fans in the know, this is the same lineup that recorded the classic 8:30 double LP. It’s a very good show and includes the band going through such numbers as “Elegant People,” “Scarlet Woman,” “Pursuit of the Woman with the Feathered Hat,” and “Mr. Gone.”

It’s always tough to give a box set the full-blown five-star review, but as it stands, Forecast: Tomorrow is pretty damn good. It’s not meant to serve as a “greatest hits” depository, so some fans may be miffed at the track choices, but all in all, this collection does show off Weather Report’s strengths rather fully, and is a fine introduction to a great jazz group that was certainly more than just another fusion collective that was more into itself than making good music. Plus, you’ll get those ever-important essays in a big-ass book that you can show to your friends with delight knowing that you are an official Weather Report fan.

~Jason Thompson