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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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.