Jaco Is One Of 2015’s Top New Music, Overall Documentaries

Courtesy:  MVD Visual/Iron Horse Entertainment

Courtesy: MVD Visual/Iron Horse Entertainment

“He was our Hendrix.”  That one simple statement sums up what made bass legend Jaco Pastorius one of the most legendary figures to ever pick up the bass guitar if not the most legendary. It is a statement made by one of the interviewees in MVD Visual and Iron Horse Entertainment’s new documentary on Jaco Pastorius, or John Francis Pastorius III (as audiences learn in watching the new documentary about the famed bassist) and quite the powerful statement, too.  In watching through the nearly two-hour documentary audiences will agree that it is just one of the important statements made in reference to the brilliant yet troubled figure.  Speaking of the many statements made throughout the course of the documentary, the story presented via those statements lies at the center of the documentary.  It is just one of the elements that make the program worth the watch.  The footage and music incorporated into the story makes Jaco all the more engaging.  The bonus interviews included in the documentary’s second disc round out the program.  Together with the program’s central story and the footage and music used to flesh out the story, all three elements show in whole that Jaco is one of the year’s most important music documentaries and one of the year’s best documentaries overall.

MVD Visual and Iron Horse Entertainment’s new profile of Jaco Pastorius is one of 2015’s most important music documentaries.  It is also one of the year’s best documentaries overall.  The main reason for this is the very fact that it centers on a bass player — one of the most prolific bass players in modern music history no less.  That is just one part of what makes this documentary so important.  It is rare for bassists to get their own profile.  So that makes his presentation even more important.  At the center of the presentation is the story of a man with a brilliant yet troubled mind.  It was a mind troubled not by drugs and alcohol but by a mental disease.  To be more specific, he suffered from bipolar disorder.  As is noted in the interviews it wasn’t just bipolar disorder in general but a specific branch of bipolar disorder.  Considering this revelation made late in the program, the erratic behavior that those closest to him described make much more sense.  What’s really interesting to consider here is whether or not Pastorius himself knew that he suffered from the disorder or if anyone around him even had an inkling of it.  Considering that one of his friends alleges that Pastorius had told him that he [Pastorius] wanted to die, one can only assume that Pastorius knew that something was wrong with him.  Whether or not he knew specifically what it was and whether or not knowledge and treatment of bipolar disorder was available at the time is a whole other story in itself. These are just a couple aspects of the program’s main story that make Jaco such an interesting watch. There are also stories about an alleged rift between Pastorius and Joe Zawinul and some apparent issues with singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, too. Those are just a couple of the side stories featured in this documentary that will keep viewers engaged. Together with the main story of Pastorius’ brilliant yet troubled mind, the whole of Jaco’s main presentation gives viewers plenty of reason to watch it.

The central story presented in Jaco is in itself more than enough reason for music lovers and lovers of music history to watch the documentary. That is because it paints a rich picture of a brilliant yet troubled mind. The thing is that his was a mind troubled not by drugs and alcohol but by mental disorder. While his battle with bipolar disorder obviously complicated his life, it also led to some of the most brilliant and innovative works that the music community in whole has ever had the pleasure of experiencing. And audiences learn all about that through the course of Jaco’s nearly two-hour run time. Of course the story centered on Pastorius’ impact on the music community is just one part of what makes this documentary such an important addition to this year’s field of documentaries. The combination of the program’s footage and music makes up another of the program’s key elements. In regards to the footage that accompanies the interviews, the footage gives audiences a look into Pastorius at different avenues of his career both onstage and off. It serves to help illustrate the highs and lows that he experienced and how they affected both him and those that were closest to him. The use of music from Joni Mitchell, Weather Report, and from Pastorius himself helps in its own way to give some insight (in hindsight that is) into the struggle that Pastorius must have fought throughout his life. That is especially the case as it is finally revealed late in the program that he suffered from bipolar disorder. Pastorius is shown sitting in front of a piano at a live venue playing a rather interesting piece that really heightens the importance of the revelation. It is just one example of how the music serves its own important purpose in Jaco’s overall presentation. The changing styles exhibited throughout the course of the program both before and after the revelation of his diagnosis shows in hindsight the intensity of the battle going on inside Pastorius’ mind. When coupled with the footage used to flesh out the story of Pastorius’ life and career the two elements together work with the documentary’s main story (told through collected interviews with those closest to Pastorius) to exhibit even more exactly why Jaco is such a rare and important gem of a documentary. Even with all of this in mind, there is still at least one more element to examine in Jaco’s overall presentation. That final element is the bonus material included with the program.

Both the central story of Jaco Pastorius’ story life and career and the material used to flesh out the story (I.E. the music and footage, which also includes home movies of Pastorius and his family) are integral parts in their own right to the whole of Jaco. While both elements are equally important to the whole of the program, the bonus material included in the presentation’s second disc cannot be ignored in its importance. The bonus material in question is an hour and forty minutes of bonus interview footage in which those closest to Jaco and even those who were more acquaintances share their memories of Pastorius. They share insightful thoughts and happy memories of the legendary bassist. Joni Mitchell shares her thoughts on having to hunt down Pastorius in one interview, revealing that he was at a “rehearsal” with members of Weather Report. In reality, he was where she expected to find him. But he wasn’t practicing. Instead he was playing Frisbee with one of his fellow musicians. There is also a funny anecdote from Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea in which Flea outlines the reach of Pastorius’ body of work as he discusses a young Australian teen that made a bet with him about learning Pastorius’ work. While the bet that Flea and the young gentleman made is itself pretty funny, the outcome of the deal is just as funny. There are also some insights that are at times thought-provoking and at others moving from those that knew him best. Together with the other noted interviews, the whole of those interviews makes Jaco’s bonus material just as important as the presentation’s other noted elements. Audiences will especially agree with this sentiment as they realize that the interviews in question are extensions of the interviews featured in the main body of the documentary. This adds even more interest to the interviews as it allows audiences to get a fuller view of the picture painted by those interviewed. Together with those interview segments and the material that accompanies said segments (the footage and music), all three elements combine to make Jaco a program that will keep audiences completely engaged from beginning to end. And in keeping audiences so solidly engaged, audiences will agree that Jaco proves, in the end, to be one of this year’s most important music documentaries and one of the year’s best new documentaries overall.

Jaco is a rare gem of a documentary. It is just as rare in the realm of music documentaries. That is because of how few documentaries have ever been produced about bass players. That is just part of what makes this presentation so important. The story presented within the documentary makes it even more important. It isn’t just another run-of-the-mill bio piece. It doesn’t follow Pastorius from birth to death. Rather it picks up in his young adult life and goes from there. And unlike so many other music documentaries it reveals a man that was troubled not by drugs and alcohol but by mental disorder. Audiences get more than just a bunch of interviews here, too. They also get a well-edited program that utilizes both home movies and pictures from Pastorius’ life and career, and samples of his music to help better illustrate the story of who Jaco Pastorius was. There are even complete interview segments included as bonus material to make that picture whole and clear. Whether through said interviews, through the noted music samples and footage, or through the program’s main story, audiences get so much from this new profile of one of the music industry’s most prolific performers. All things considered Jaco proves in the end to be without argument one of the most important music documentaries to be released this year and one of the best overall documentaries to be released this year. It is available now in stores and online via MVD Visual’s online store at http://mvdb2b.com/?q=Jaco&s=t&site_id=search&boolean=IN+BOOLEAN+MODE. More information on this and other titles from MVD Visual is available online now at:



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STS Creates Another Musical Masterpiece In Its Fifth Full-Length Album

Courtesy:  Prosthetic Records

Courtesy: Prosthetic Records

Veteran prog-rock outfit Scale The Summit released its latest album last Friday. The album, simply (and aptly) titled V is the band’s fifth full-length studio effort since its formation roughly ten years ago in Houston, Texas and its fifth in the eight years since the release of its 2007 debut album Monument. That is impressive considering that it is nearly double what most bands manage to churn out in that amount of time. Most bands typically can get out three albums over ten years if they’re lucky considering touring schedules for each album. STS has proven over the course of its eleven years together to obviously be anything but one of those bands having released a new album every two years since the release of its 2007 debut. That’s not the only way in which the band has proven to be anything but standard. It has also shown that in regards to the overall content of each of its previous recordings. None of the band’s previous four albums have sounded like the other. And even within themselves, none of said records have stuck to just one style of rock, either. They encompass both the prog-rock realm and that of prog-metal. There are even some modern jazz influences in each of the band’s compositions as well as other influences. That is just as much the case in V as in the band’s previous records. That variety will keep listeners just as engaged throughout the course of this record as its previous offerings. And for those that might be less familiar with the band’s body of work it is just as effective as a first impression. Keeping all of this in mind, V shows in full to be yet another impressive effort from STS as well as yet another candidate for any critic’s list of the year’s best new rock record and one of the year’s best new hard/rock albums. Such success means it is also just as easy of a candidate for any critic’s list of the year’s best new albums overall.

Scale The Summit has proven time and again to be one of the best bands in the prog-rock and prog-metal community over the course of its now eleven years together. That is because it has made a concerted effort to be different from both others within the world of progressive music and music in whole. That effort has paid off yet again on the band’s fifth full-length studio recording. Simply (and aptly) titled V the album boasts ten more instrumental tracks that longtime fans will enjoy just as much as those that might be new to the band’s body of work. That is made clear right from the album’s opener ‘The Winged Bull.’ This four minute-plus opus is one more example of why STS has so often been compared to the likes of Dream Theater and other well-known names within the prog-rock and prog-metal community. The dual-guitar attack of Chris Letchford and Travis Levrier coupled with Mark Mitchell’s work on the bass creates a sense of controlled chaos–counterpoint if one will. As much is going on just between the trio it is obvious that quite a bit of thought went into each part. That is especially obvious as Mitchell complements both drummer J.C. Bryant and his fellow guitarists. Speaking of Bryant, his ability to keep time while handling the rather difficult polyrhythmic patterns throughout is just as impressive here. The end result of all four musicians’ talents together is a song that comes across as one part Dream Theater and one part Meshuggah. It is a song that was definitely the perfect choice to open this album and easily one of the album’s best moments. That says plenty considering just how much there is to say to the positive of all ten of this album’s impressive compositions.

‘The Winged Bull’ is a solid, impressive opener for STS’ latest full-length studio recording. That is because of the talent exhibited by each of the band’s members by themselves and as a collective unit. The effect of the band’s collective talents is a song that sounds like controlled chaos in the best possible manner and that conjures thoughts of Dream Theater and Meshuggah over the course of its nearly four and a half-minute run time. While it is in its own right an impressive part of the album’s whole, it is of course just one example of what makes the band’s latest offering such an impressive record. ‘Oort Cloud,’ which comes late in the album’s run, is yet another example of what makes V such an impressive effort from a band that is part of the future of prog-rock and prog-metal. That is because it is one of those pieces that puts on display the band’s modern jazz influences, as noted earlier. The song opens with a decidedly difficult riff from bassist Mark Mitchell. It’s not some speed metal riff or anything of that sort. Rather it’s the type of lick that conjures thoughts of legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius. Michell executes that opening with the utmost expertise and continues to hold his own as the song progresses through its roughly five and a half-minute run time, too. His are not the only talents worth noting in this song. Drummer J.C. Bryant joins Mitchell as the song’s other central musician. Bryant shows just as much talent here as at any point throughout the album as it requires far more control being that it is not nearly as intense as those songs.

Both ‘The Winged Bull’ and ‘Oort Cloud’ are in their own right impressive additions to the whole of V. That is because both songs show in their own way the diversity of the band members’ talents and influences. They show once more that despite its label as a prog-metal band, it is obviously so much more than that. They are just two ways in which the band exhibits that diversity and diversity of talent in this record. ‘Kestrel,’ which also comes later in the record’s run, is one more example of the reach of the band members’ talents and in turn the diversity of the record’s sound. It is a heavy song. There is no denying that. However, what is truly interesting here is that for all of its heaviness, it is still is not just one of those adrenaline-fueled, thousand mile-per-hour pieces that allowed the band to just ground and pound for lack of better worked. Rather it is a piece that obviously required a certain amount of attention because of its changing time signatures. It is a piece that built right from its opening bars until its abrupt but solid ending. It requires audiences to really listen to the song in whole to appreciate its depth. In appreciating that depth, listeners will agree that said depth makes clear why ‘Kestrel’ is one more of V’s highest points. Together with ‘The Winged Bull’ and ‘Oort Cloud’ all three songs present in full clarity why V is yet another impressive recording from STS and why it is a triple threat of an offering from one of the leaders of progressive music’s next generation.

Scale The Summit is one of the leading acts in progressive music’s next generation. That has already been made clear through the band’s first four records. Its latest full-length studio effort V strengthens that argument even more. That is because the ten tracks that make up the body of the record stand out from the compositions included in the band’s previous records and from each other within the course of this album. All three of the songs noted here are each prime examples of just how much the record’s songs stand out. That is not to discount any of the album’s other songs either. All ten tracks could be used as examples of the record’s solidity. That taken into consideration V shows itself to be a triple threat of a record. It is a record that deserves a spot on any critic’s list of the year’s best new rock records, best new hard rock/metal albums and in turn the year’s best new albums overall. It is available now in stores and online. It can be ordered direct via STS’ official website at http://www.scalethesummit.com and its official online store at http://www.scalethesummitstore.com. More information on V is available online now along with all of the band’s latest news and tour updates at:

Website: http://www.scalethesummit.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/scalethesummit

Twitter: http://twitter.com/scalethesummit

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Yellowjackets Take The Top Spot As The Year’s Best New Album Overall

Courtesy:  Mack Avenue Records

Courtesy: Mack Avenue Records

A Rise in the Road, the latest release from the pioneer jazz-fusion group Yellowjackets has been largely met with mixed reviews.  This is an album that fans either have loved or hated.  There seems to be little to no grey area at all with this album.  But in this critic’s own personal opinion, the band has never sounded better.  This latest record takes audiences back to the days of Blue Hats and other similar previous Yellowjackets releases.  Gone are the electric additions used in so many of the band’s other albums.  This is a fully acoustic record that is perfection from start to finish.

The band writes in the liner notes of its new album, “It’s hard to believe that Yellowjackets is now thirty-two years old.  No thirty-two year journey is one long stretch of level highway.  Along the way, one invariably encounters a rise in the road…We now find ourselves moving purposefully with renewed energy up that rise in the road.”  That could not have been better stated.  Right from the album’s opener, ‘When The Lady Dances’, one gets images of a high class jazz club, and people dancing happily, while others enjoy a drink at the bar.  One can almost see a camera panning and zooming slowly, focusing on one woman in particular.  She is dressed quite well, dancing quite happily with her male partner.  Being the album’s opener, it is a perfect first impression from the band, whose most recent album, Timeline, was released two years ago.  Founding member Bob Mintzer has never sounded better as he presents the main musical storyline on his sax.  And drummer Will Kennedy, who returns after being absent from the band for many years, keeps a solid backbeat offering a certain extra “seasoning” where needed.   Much the same can be said of longtime keyboardist Russell Ferrante.

The band members offer listeners plenty of energy in the first half of its new album.  So it’s just fitting that when it reaches its mid-point, the band slows things down quite a bit.  ‘Longing’ is another of those pieces that is so fittingly titled.  Again, Ferrante shines here.  This time, he partners with new bassist Felix Pastorius to paint a fully encompassing and touching musical picture.  Listeners get in ‘Longing’ perhaps a Central Park scene in early Fall.  Someone is standing on a small bridge over a stream, leaves falling around them, a cool breeze blowing.  This person could be a man or woman.  And the person in question is contemplating perhaps a missed chance at love or another social situation.  Ferrante’s gentle strains on the keyboards present that deep emotion and the setting alongside Pastorius’ bass lines.  Kennedy’s drumming and cymbal work serve to finalize that picture.  It all comes together to make ‘Longing’ one of the highest of highs on this record.   For those wondering why Pastorius’ name sound familiar, it should.  He is the son of the late great Weather Report bassist Jaco Pastorius.  As the band writes in its liner notes, its members had been friends with Jaco for many years before his passing.  So it was just fitting that he filled the shoes of longtime bassist Jimmy Haslip.

The musical pictures painted through A Rise in the Road run the gamut.  Regardless of the scene and emotion, those pictures are so rich and vivid.  And just as the band can paint some rich musical pictures and textures, it can also pain quite the thought provoking picture, too.  A prime example of the band’s ability to do so comes in ‘An Amber Shade of Blue.’  One could argue that the bizarre musical tapestry painted in this near seven-minute song harkens back to the golden era of bop.  Ferrante’s piano licks, Kennedy’s polyrhythmic patterns, and the trumpet playing of guest musician Ambrose Akinmusire feels entirely improvisational here, versus the more structured vibe of the album’s other songs.  A comparison to music from Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool could be made with this song.  It is one more example of what makes A Rise in the Road such an outstanding album from this group of highly talented veteran musicians.  It’s an example of why any fan of this veteran jazz act should give this record at least one listen.  Many might find after one listen that it’s worth well more than just one listen.  It’s worth every listen every time.

European fans of the band will get to see the band live this month as it makes its way across the continent.  It will perform in Copenhagen two nights on October 18th and 19th before heading to Germany on the 21st, 22nd, and 25th.  The band will wind down 2013 with a performance in North Carolina’s “Queen City” on December 14th.  The band will be at the Knight Theatre in Charlotte at 8pm that evening.  Information on other tour dates and more is available online at http://www.yellowjackets.com and http://www.facebook.com/yellowjacketsmusic.  And to keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.