Weather Report: Mysterious Traveller (1974)

Kronomyth 4.0: THE LAST TANGO. You’ll hear the end of an era on “American Tango,” the last Weather Report composition to feature founding member Miroslav Vitous. It’s a typically ethereal piece, a fitting swan song from the musical odd duck in an ever-shifting birdland. Mysterious Traveller is still a transitional record; in fact, no two songs sound exactly alike. There is again a new rhythm section, this time featuring Alphonso Johnson on electric bass (check out the swinging “Cucumber Slumber” to hear his funky influence) and a fresh pair of double drummers (Skip Hadden, Ishmael Wilburn). Another new wrinkle is the addition of vocals; choral in the case of the opening “Nubian Sundance” (which recalls the extended jams of Sweetnighter) and actual lead vocals from Josef Zawinul on the pretty musical playground of “Jungle Book.” The band continues to break new musical ground with each album. On “Mysterious Traveller,” it seems as though Shorter and Z are creating a new musical language as realism and cataclysm collide. On “Blackthorn Rose,” the two are reconciled briefly for some remarkably restrained jazz—and in Weather Report’s world, restraint is almost an act of sabotage. On the funereal “Scarlet Woman,” Sweetnighter once again casts its shadow. A good half of Mysterious Traveller retreads the same ground as their last album, while the other half introduces the funky rhythms, African elements and piquant pairing of sax and keyboards that marked a new shift in the weather. As with their last, Mysterious Traveller is regarded as a classic Weather Report album with some minor flaws, most of them attributable to the band’s restless, experimental spirit. It’s a good record, with moments (“Jungle Book,” “Blackthorn Rose”) you’re unlikely to hear anywhere else in their catalog, and a few songs (“Cucumber Slumber,” “American Tango,” “Mysterious Traveller”) that have stayed with me over the years.

Original LP Version
A1. Nubian Sundance (Josef Zawinul) (10:39)
A2. American Tango (Josef Zawinul/Miroslav Vitous) (3:39)
A3. Cucumber Slumber (Josef Zawinul/Alphonso Johnson) (8:20)
B1. Mysterious Traveller (Wayne Shorter) (7:21)
B2. Blackthorn Rose (Wayne Shorter) (5:00)
B3. Scarlet Woman (Alphonso Johnson/Wayne Shorter/Josef Zawinul) (5:43)
B4. Jungle Book (Josef Zawinul) (7:22)

The Players
Skip Hadden (drums), Alphonso Johnson (electric bass), Wayne Shorter (soprano sax, tenor sax, tac piano, sea shell), Dom Um Romao (percussion, drums, triangle, tambourine, cabassa), Ishmael Wilburn (drums), Josef Zawinul (vocal, pianos, Fender Rhodes electric piano, acoustic piano, synthesizer, EML synthesizer, meruga, percussion, melodica, guitar, clay drum, tamboura, tac piano, kalimba, maracas, organ) with James Auger Adderley (vocal on track 2), Ray Baretto (percussion on track 3), Billie Barnum (vocals on track 1), James Gilstrad (vocals on track 1), Isacoff (table and finger cymbals on track 7), Steve Little (timpani on track 6), Marti McCall (vocals on track 1), Jessica Smith (vocals on track 1), Miroslav Vitous (bass on track 2), Edna Wright (vocals on track 1). Produced by Wayne Shorter and Josef Zawinul; engineered by Ron Malo.

The Plastic
Released on elpee on March 24, 1974 in the US (Columbia, KC-32494), the UK and the Netherlands (CBS, S 80027), Canada (Columbia, WKC-32494) and Japan (CBS/Sony, SOPL-249); reached #46 on the US charts, #31 on the US R&B charts and #2 on the US Jazz charts; named Album of the Year in the Down Beat Readers Poll. Re-released on elpee and cassette in 1977 in the US (Columbia, PC/PCT-32494) and in 1978 in Japan (CBS/Sony, 25AP-946). Re-released on CD in 1985 in the US (Columbia, CK-32494), on June 4, 2002 in the US (Columbia Legacy, CK 65112), and in 2002 in the UK and Austria (Columbia Legacy, 507657-2). Also released on budget-priced CD in 2002 in the US (SBME Special Markets, 165320). Re-released on DSD remastered CD in 2007 in Japan (Sony, SICP-1243). Front cover art by Helmut K. Wimmer; album design by Teresa Alfieri; back cover photography by Norman Seeff.

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