Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Weather Report

  • Weather Report [Columbia, 1971] B
  • I Sing the Body Electric [Columbia, 1972] B
  • Sweetnighter [Columbia, 1973] B
  • Mysterious Traveler [Columbia, 1974] B
  • Tale Spinnin' [Columbia, 1975] B-
  • Mr. Gone [Columbia/ARC, 1978] B
  • 8:30 [Columbia/ARC, 1979] B+
  • Night Passage [ARC/Columbia, 1980] C+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Weather Report [Columbia, 1971]
In a Silent Way played mostly for atmosphere. The Milesian demi-jazz of side two sounds pretty finky (no misprint intended), but the tone-poem impressionism of side one does its mysterious work. Highlight: the opening mood piece, "Milky Way," in which two Silent Way vets, soprano saxophonist Wayne Shorter and pianist Joe Zawinul, make sounds that suggest a carillon approaching a time warp. B

I Sing the Body Electric [Columbia, 1972]
Significantly less Milesian than their debut, which is impressive but not necessarily good--the difference is that this is neater, more antiseptic, its bottom less dirty and its top less sexy. I find myself interested but never engaged, and I'm sure one piece is a flop--"Crystals," described by the annotator as "about" time. Sing the body electric and I'm with you. Sing the body short-circuited and you'd better turn me on. B

Sweetnighter [Columbia, 1973]
Ask yourself: What kind of a jazz (or rock) (or jazz-rock) group would conceive its sonar identity around electric keyboards and soprano sax? A pretty dinky (not dunky) one, right? So while I'm pleased that they're going for a drum groove a little solider than anything Dom Um Romao can move and shake, I'm not surprised that they get it only--just barely, in fact--on "125th Street congress." And that "Boogie Woogie Waltz" is fatally cute, ace improvisations and all. B

Mysterious Traveler [Columbia, 1974]
Not bad, not bad--but is that all there is? Maybe what makes the traveller so mysterious is that he doesn't go anywhere in particular. Not even with Alphonso Johnson pushing like hell from underneath. B

Tale Spinnin' [Columbia, 1975]
I used to be cowed by these guys, but all they are is Jeff Beck with liner notes. I mean, wouldn't you know that the finest fusion band in the land would be altogether too damn fine? Yoked to these tunes and concepts, their solidest rhythm section to date--Alphonso Johnson on bass and Ndugu on (trap) drums--only underscores their subservience to technique. B-

Mr. Gone [Columbia/ARC, 1978]
I don't think it was the advent of Jaco Pastorius that triggered the band's ever more fusoid tendencies. Professional evolution, that's all. Like Black Market and Heavy Weather, this is short on rhythmic inspiration (four different drummers, no percussionists) and long on electric ivory. When I'm in the mood I can still get off on its rich colors and compositional flow. When I'm not I think dark thoughts about Muzak and Yurrup. B

8:30 [Columbia/ARC, 1979]
The live double their more bemused admirers have waited for years is indeed Weather Report's most (if not first) useful album. But it also defines their limits. This is a band that runs the gamut from the catchy to the mysterioso. Joe Zawinul is the best sound effects man since Shadow Morton. And when he gives himself room, Wayne Shorter can blow. B+

Night Passage [ARC/Columbia, 1980]
Finally it is revealed: they want to be Henry Mancini. The perky title cut could be a title theme for your local meteorologist, and after that they demonstrate their aptitude for mood music. Catchiest tune on side two was written by somebody named Ellington. C+