[Review] Weather Report: I Sing The Body Electric (1972)

A half-live, half-studio hybrid that continues the exciting experimentation of the first Weather Report album.

Kronomyth 2.0: A Whitman’s sampler of sonic delectables.

The experimental second record from Weather Report may be the strangest they’ve ever made. It’s divided into two distinct halves; the first side is avant-garde jazz featuring an expanded horn section and chorus, the second side is fractious fusion excerpted from a live performance in Japan as a quintet.

The opening Unknown Soldier is Zawinul’s symphony against war, featuring a host of effects on the synthesizer including air sirens, explosions, gunfire and marching boots. Played out like some Greek tragedy for the twentieth century, the song layers horns and vocals atop the unruffled rhythm section of Eric Gravatt and Miroslav Vitous, bringing to mind some of Frank Zappa’s recent classical jazz experiments but presented in a more jazz-wise mode. The next track, The Moors, begins with a detuned 12-string acoustic guitar intro that is quickly if improbably swallowed by some spaced-out fusion from Wayne Shorter. Vitous’ fuzz bass, Shorter’s otherworldly horns and Zawinul’s crystal tones dominate the third track, while Second Sunday In August arrives like a dream, foreshadowing the music of Harold Budd and Brian Eno.

Judged by these four songs alone, I Sing The Body Electric is an important work in the development of not only modern jazz, but modern music. The remaining trio of tracks, recorded live in Japan, is less interesting to my ears. The opening medley is noisy, pitting Zawinul’s confrontational keyboard sounds against Shorter’s sax; the silly Surucucú is interesting as an experiment in sounds but doesn’t break any vital, new ground.

This second side of music simply reinforces what most listeners already knew: Weather Report was an electric fusion band with few peers. But on that first side of Body Electric, listeners were introduced to worlds they didn’t know existed. In the ever-shifting world of Weather Report, these landscapes would be abandoned in the pursuit of greener (financially) fields, but the core trio of Shorter, Vitous and Zawinul left behind an amazing (if small) body of work.

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Original LP Version

A1. Unknown Soldier (Josef Zawinul) (7:57)
A2. The Moors (Wayne Shorter) (4:49)
A3. Crystal (Miroslav Vitous) (7:23)
A4. Second Sunday In August (Josef Zawinul) (4:04)
B1. Medley: Vertical Invader (Josef Zawinul) / T.H. (Miroslav Vitous) / Dr. Honoris Causa (Josef Zawinul) (10:45)
B2. Surucucu (Wayne Shorter) (7:46)
B3. Directions (Josef Zawinul) (4:37)

The Players

Eric Gravatt (drums), Wayne Shorter (reeds), Miroslav Vitous (bass), Josef Zawinul (electric & acoustic keyboards) with Joshie Armstrong (singer), Yolande Bavan (singer), Hubert Laws, Jr. (flute), Roger Powell (consultant), Chapman Roberts (singer), Ralph Towner (12-string guitar on track 2), Dom Um Ramao (percussion on track 2), Andrew White (English horn on track 1), Wilmer Wise (D and piccolo trumpet). Produced by Shoviza Productions, Inc.; recording engineered by Wayne Tarnowski and Susumu Satoh, mix engineered by Wayne Tarnowski and Don Meehan. Executive producer: Robert Devere. Many thanks to Ray Colcord and Jim Tyrrell.

The Pictures

Original cover design by Ed Lee. Cover art by Jack Trompetter and Fred Swanson.

The Plastic

Originally recorded between December 1971 and January 1972 (the second half was recorded live on January 13, 1972) and released on elpee on May 26, 1972 in the US (Columbia, KC-31352), the UK and the Netherlands (CBS, S 64943) and Japan (CBS, SOPL-37). It reached #147 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in the 1970s in the UK and the Netherlands (CBS, S 64963 on sunburst label) and in Argentina (Columbia, 08591 on sunburst label) as a “Nice Price” reissue.
  2. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1977 in the US (Columbia, PC/PCT-31352).
  3. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in the 1980s in the UK and the Netherlands (CBS, 32062/40-32062).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in May 1990 in the US (Columbia Legacy, CK/CT-46107). [There also appears to be a budget-priced CD reissue in the early 1990s in the US (SBME Special Product, 749505), which may simply be a reissue of CK-46107.]
  5. Re-issued on compact disc in 1991 in Europe (Columbia, 468207-2).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in 1997 in Japan (Sony, SRCS-9141) as part of Sony’s Master Sound series.
  7. Re-released on DSD master compact disc on March 21, 2007 in Japan (Sony, SICP-1239).
  8. Repackaged as budget-priced 5CD set featuring this album and four others (Sweetnighter, Mysterious Traveller, Black Market and Night Passage) in the UK (Sony/BMG Jazz, 714547).

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