What surprised us most about the dozen or so copies that we played years ago for this shootout was how wrong most copies of this album sound. They’re SOUR in the midrange. On this kind of music, a sour midrange is the kiss of death.
Those copies that aren’t sour are frequently just plain dull. On a recording like this, so full of percussion — which, to be honest, LIVES OR DIES on the quality of its percussion — dullness is devastating.
And so is slowness. If you have old school tube equipment — great for vintage RVG recordings but way too slow to keep up with this fast-paced and percussion-heavy music — this record is not going to do what it desperately wants to do: get your feet tappin’.
Smear is also another thing to watch out for — smear kills what’s good about this record. The percussion transients lose their snap and the harmonics get lost. The less smeary sides really bring out the funky magic of the recording.
Had Us a Real Good Time
Weather Report has always been one of our favorite fusion groups, mostly because of the diversity of each of their albums within the confines (context?) of the genre. If you were comparing Sweetnighter to Heavy Weather, could you even be sure it was the same band?
Sweetnighter is completely and unapologetically groove-oriented, putting heavy emphasis on the rhythm section (here made up of some of the jazz world’s most innovative and talented players.) Which means, dear reader, if your copy doesn’t have punchy deep bass and plenty of whomp, man, you are really missing the boat on this album.
Not to worry — here at Better Records we know a thing or two about whomp. You might go so far as to say we LIVE for it. It’s the one area of the sound that, more than any other, really brings music in the home to LIFE. Those of you with big dynamic speakers and the power to drive them know what I’m talkin’ about.
Boogie Woogie Waltz
125th Street Congress
Right from the start, a vastly different Weather Report emerges here, one that reflects co-leader Joe Zawinul’s developing obsession with the groove. It is the groove that rules this mesmerizing album, leading off with the irresistible 3/4 marathon deceptively tagged as the “Boogie Woogie Waltz” and proceeding through a variety of Latin-grounded hip-shakers. It is a record of discovery for Zawinul, who augments his Rhodes electric piano with a funky wah-wah pedal, unveils the ARP synthesizer as a melodic instrument and sound-effects device, and often coasts along on one chord.
… The wane of freewheeling ensemble interplay is more than offset by the big increase in rhythmic push; bassist Miroslav Vitous, drummer Eric Gravatt, and percussionist Dom Um Romao are now cogs in one of jazz’s great swinging machines.