It has been our experience that the copies with high frequency extension and the clarity, space and percussive energy that results from it are consistently the best sounding. You may have read elsewhere on the site that what separates many of the best Columbia LPs from their competition is an open, extended top end. For some reason Columbia, more than most labels, had a habit of making slightly dull records. Dull does not work for this album.
When the highs on the record are right, it all comes together. Unfortunately, most copies don’t have those highs. There’s more to it than that of course: some copies lack bass, some are a bit grainy and gritty sounding — the normal problems associated with vinyl records are all here.
But when you have good highs you are about 80 to 85% of the way toward a Hot Stamper. Complete the picture with bass, dynamics, etc. (and a big speaker system) and there’s a good chance the sound will blow your mind.
Our Track Commentary below has lots of What To Listen For (WTLF) advice to help you evaluate the copies you have on hand.
Not an easy track to get right; there’s so much upper midrange and high frequency information to deal with. If the synthesizers and horns are too much, the effect is exciting but won’t wear well. Too much 6k is the problem on most copies, along with not enough above 10. That is a deadly combination.
A Key Track for side two — the drumming and the yelling should sound really alive and powerful, almost shocking. Also, as this is a live performance, the applause is rich and tonally correct on the best pressings, bright, edgy and gritty on lesser ones.
The heart of side two is right here. This track has deep synthesizer bass, lots of airy percussion, with Shorter’s saxophone solidly planted in the mix, all surrounded by tons of ambience. When I listen to a track like this, I picture myself at the mixing console, trying to decide whether all the elements are in balance. That’s the ultimate test — does everything sound balanced and correct. Is everything working together? Or do some instruments or elements of the recording call attention to themselves unnaturally?
The best copies are balanced; all the elements of the recording work together, just as all the members of the band work together. With a balanced copy you find yourself enjoying the music, not listening to the sound.
Now it should be noted that on the best copies — the copies with the most extended top end — there will be places on this song that may sound bright. Shorter’s sax can be a bit much in places as well. But there is no alternative, no cure, because the copies with less top end cause the percussion to sound muted, and the quality of the percussion on this album is critical to both the music and the sound. In other words, the music doesn’t work without the percussion, and the sound doesn’t work unless you can hear the percussion properly.
Pretty much the same story applies. This song lives and dies by its driving percussion. Also, the cymbals have a lovely shimmer on the best copies. Most of the time they sound dull and smeary, and that ruins everything.
Heavy Weather is a classic case of yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.
This is music that doesn’t make any sense unless you play it LOUD. This is a BIG SPEAKER recording. I know this because I was playing it too quietly, which is to say at normal listening volumes, and it just wasn’t thrilling me. As soon as I turned it up, it really started to work, both as a piece of music and as a recording. So much gets lost in a mix as dense as this one at moderate levels. Everything comes out into the open when you give it the volume it needs. Trust me on this one; without a big dynamic speaker this music is never going to do what it wants to do — which is to ROCK YOUR WORLD.
So much for sonics. Musically there are only a handful of jazz-rock fusion albums that I can still listen to: Return to Forever’s Romantic Warrior, John McLaughlin’s Birds of Fire, Weather Report’s Sweetnighter, and this Weather Report LP. Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, Joe Zawinul: these guys are at the top of their game on this album. Since they are some of the most talented jazz musicians to have come up in the last 30 years, that’s saying something.
I consider this album nothing less than a work of GENIUS. It’s completely original. There’s not another record I can think of that sounds anything like it.