Jazz Appreciation Month: Weather Report, 'Palladium'
Weather Report, "Palladium"
The fusion extant in Weather Report's mid-1970s oeuvre is perhaps best described as a virtuosic amalgamation of classical infrastructure and prog rock sonorities. Indeed, nowhere is their heady hodgepodge more pronounced than on Heavy Weather, the group's 1977 release on Columbia Records. In particular, saxophonist Wayne Shorter's composition "Palladium"--which, alongside "Harlequin," comprises his pair of the album's eight tunes--finds the Weather Report amalgam at its most balanced and pleasing proportions.
Voted "Record of the Year" by the European publication Jazz Forum in 1978 and awarded the prestigious 1977 "Silver Disc" from Japan's Swing Journal, Heavy Weather garnered domestic accolades from Downbeat, Record World, Cashbox and Playboy, as well. The album also earned Grammy nominations for keyboardist, composer and synth innovator Josef Zawinul (Best Instrumental Composition, "Birdland") and bassist, composer and "Fort Lauderdale Flash" Jaco Pastorius (Best Jazz Soloist, Heavy Weather).
This critical and commercial success can be attributed to what John Ephland called:
"melodies that, while true to the band's signature sound and attitude, now included refrains, new approaches to call-and-response, obvious choruses, beginnings, middles and ends; in short, the listener knew where he was on any given tune in a way that couldn't have been said before."
Once again, the conscious switch to more organic, listener-friendly forms and tighter, more concise orchestrations is most apparent in Wayne Shorter's "Palladium."
Unlike earlier Shorter pieces such as the ternary "Freezing Fire" from 1975's Tale Spinnin' or the monothematic "Three Clowns" on Black Market of 1976, "Palladium" utilizes a kind of hybrid formal scheme. Here, a typical jazz head gets affixed to a linear abdomen and circular thorax.
According to academic David J. Vayo, a composition containing this schematic has "a forward-moving progression of musical ideas that reaches its final destination in a continuously-repeated (circular) closing theme." Vayo further asserts that within this context, the musical motion moves "from a world of discrete events to one that is timeless and never-ending."
Herein lies the intrinsic beauty and learned genius of Shorter, Zawinul and Pastorius's contributions to Heavy Weather--keeping the listener fully engaged, in spite of their formal rigor.
Whereas the groups spawned from Miles Davis' Bitches Brew sessions of 1969-70 (Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, etc.) pioneered tremendous innovations regarding rhythm, harmony and certainly timbres, only Weather Report explored musical form with any success. Aside from the sheer uniqueness of the linear-to-circular plan employed by Shorter in "Palladium," the material of the preceding section forgoes the traditional weapon of choice for jazz: theme and variation.
Instead, from its initial statement onward, thematic development in "Palladium" occurs organically throughout the course of the piece. And in terms of developing variation, "Palladium," then, owes more to Beethoven--perhaps the Fifth Symphony or even the Große Fuge, Op. 133--than any Gottschalk piece or Ellington chart.
More than a plaything for Shorter's soprano and tenor, "Palladium" showcases the entire creative dynamic of Weather Report, as well. From Zawinul's synthesized wall of sounds (his ARP 2600 and Fender-Rhodes, especially) to Pastorius' electric double-stop glissandi to Alex Acuna's brilliant drum fills to Manolo Badrena's percussive interjections (buried in the left channel, unfortunately), each member of Weather Report gets to shine.