March 2004

Brian Bromberg - Jaco
A440 Music Group A440-4022
Released: 2003

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Everything old is new again -- so the old saw goes. And listening to Jaco, Brian Bromberg’s tribute to bassist Jaco Pastorius, I’d have to agree. Jazz-fusion seems to be hot again and most of the credit for the resurgence stems from the musical ability of one man, Jaco Pastorius. Acknowledged as ahead of his time during his brief but productive lifetime, Pastorius has inspired a spate of tribute albums recently. But a bassist with as much natural ability as Brian Bromberg possesses had not yet, until now, attempted one.

Bromberg has played behind a number of jazz musicians in a wide variety of styles, including the be-bop of Dizzy Gillespie, the hard bop of Horace Silver and Freddie Hubbard, and the fusion and smooth jazz of Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin. Playing with these musicians has allowed Bromberg to assimilate a full-ranging vision of jazz, but the musician who has continually inspired him is Pastorius. On Jaco, he plays with some of the cream of adult contemporary jazz (a lineal descendant of the fusion Pastorius played), such as saxophonists Eric Marionthal and Bob Mintzer, keyboardist Jeff Lorber, and drummer Derrick (D*Loc) Walker, among others.

Of the nine tunes on Jaco, Pastorius himself wrote five (there are, in fact, ten cuts on the disc, but one, "Teen Town," is played twice). Of the remaining four, three are compositions Pastorius played during his lifetime. The final track, Bromberg’s "Tears," sounds as contemporary with Jaco’s own work as any other on this album.

One listen and you can hear the love each of the contributing musicians has for the music of Jaco Pastorius, especially Bromberg. Each track is a love-filled expression of respect for Jaco’s work. On Joe Zawinul’s "A Remark You Made," Bob Mintzer’s saxophone cries with passion. Dave Kochanski’s keyboard work is informed by his deep respect for Pastorius. And the drumming and percussion (Joel Taylor and Alex Acuna respectively) add just the right impetus and background. But it is Bromberg’s bass playing that highlights this track. He plays acoustic bass, and he flies, soars, dips, and weaves his way throughout, taking full inspiration from Pastorius.

Jaco is extremely well recorded. Mastered at 24-bit/96kHz, the hi-rez layers give you a fuller feel for each instrument, but especially the bass, which is, as is should be, front and center. You have your choice of listening via either the 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks or the 5.1 24/96 stereo or multichannel tracks. While each sounds good in its way, you’ll skip the Dolby tracks (especially as soon as you realize that there is no video worth looking at to put up with the compromised sonic quality) and head right for the hi-rez ones. The multichannel tracks, do, however, offer a truer picture of what Bromberg intended when recording Jaco. The mix places you squarely in the midst of the musicians. I know that some purists will turn their noses up at that sort of presentation -- their loss I suppose -- but the rest of you will find that it works well.

Visually, there is absolutely no reason to even consider watching the Dolby Digital presentation, so if you choose to ignore it, don’t worry. Just sit back and bask in a hi-rez tribute to one of the acknowledged masters on electric bass by one of his foremost progeny.