Show #141: Weather Report: The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981

Written by
Tom & Peter
Tom and Peter in KCRW’s studios. Photo: Kat Yore (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

<!-- missing image -->Peter Erskine is one of the best drummers on the planet. Just ask any drummer. He is a powerhouse drummer who can power a big band (that’s where he started his career) or be a subtle poet in a trio or quartet. His ECM albums are exemplary; so is his work with pianist Alan Pasqua. He is indeed a drummer’s drummer. One of my favorite musicians, too.

I’ve always loved Weather Report, the band that started back in the early 1970’s. I have all the albums. The first one had an encomium from none other than Columbia Records president Clive Davis. The music was smooth and dreamy, rigorous and thorough yet free. Peter Erskine, who wrote the liner notes of a superb new four-CD set, said, “Weather Report was often referred to as a fusion band. ‘We don’t fuse nuthin’, Joe Zawinul declared. “We just play from the heart.”

The miraculous thing about this new set, capturing tours in Japan (Osaka and Tokyo), London, Philadelphia, California, and some locations unknown is that all the music came from old-school cassettes. Some cassettes were even made by fans in Thailand and other places, and the collectors sent them to Peter Erskine. Peter sorted them out, then sent them to Stanford University, where they were digitized and transformed into superb concert recordings. It was a huge labor of love, as well as a Proustian return to the past.

There is no band today like Weather Report. The core musicians – Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter – who founded the band, genius bassist Jaco Pastorius, and Peter Erskine are at the top of their game. The musical genius and originality of this group is just mind-blowing. And listening to these four CD’s is the next best thing to actually being there when the music was recorded. And, for the many younger music fans who weren’t around in the late 70’s and early 80’s, it’s a chance to savor a band like no other.

Weather Report: The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981 comes with a nice booklet with behind-the-scenes photos of the tours. Jaco and Peter clowning around, Zawinul with an intense stare a la Steve Jobs. Big thanks to Peter, Tom Cording and others at Sony Legacy, and Tony Zawinul, Joe’s son, for making it happen.

We featured four songs from the box set: “8:30” from 1980-1, where Pastorius plays drums at the beginning, then turns the drum kit over to Erskine; then “Sightseeing” from an Osaka show, June 1980. After that a set from Tokyo in June, 1978, with Joe playing an amazing acoustic piano solo (a rare delight) then with Wayne doing a melody with Ellington’s “Come Sunday” and other standards. The show continues with the big hit, “Birdland“.  We end our show today with a track from Peter’s new band, Dr. Um. Get it? “Drum”. I didn’t at first, duhhh.

Peter is a music educator who currently teaches at USC. He’s created some interesing music apps, which you can find on his website.

The Peter Erskine Trio with pianist Alan Pasqua and bassist Darek Oles performs this Sunday, January 17, at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California. Info here: