Review Summary: The Weather Report continue to incorporate funk and world music styles into their sound, while occasionally diverting back to their more experimental roots.
The Weather Report is a group of musicians that are obsessed with evolving. Their music often expresses a yearning to explore what is unknown, even if that means searching beyond the Jazz world for inspiration. In their first two albums, Weather Report
and I Sing The Body Electric
, we found the group embracing a more experimental sound as they surpassed the boundaries of traditional Jazz Fusion to introduce a more abstract and improvisatory approach to the genre. Often intellectual and innovative in nature, their music felt more like an enigma left for us to decipher rather than an enjoyable listening experience. Sweetnighter
, on the other hand, provided exactly what we had been patiently anticipating for- a sound that emphasized more on conventional rhythmic grooves rather than elaborate displays of musicianship. No overly complex instrumental passages, just a gratifyingly jubilant performance.
serves as a reflection of everything that we have experienced in the previous three albums. The Weather Report continue to incorporate Funk elements into their typical Jazz routine, but we also see the band regressing into the ambient textures of their earlier efforts. "Nubian Sundance"
takes us into a very lively environment, and is one of the very few compositions in the group's career to feature singing. This is a very exciting jam because we really get to see some of The Weather Report's signature idiosyncratic approaches. The rhythm of the drums establish an accelerated pace for the rest of the group to follow. Keyboardist Josef Zawinul then sets out to explore some decorative melodies to contribute to the music, adding both harmonious notes as well as elaborate sonic textures. A singing choir fades in and out throughout the performance, narrating in African tongues so as to add to the exotic vibe of the song. Wayne Shorter occasionally surfaces into our attention with some wind notes, but for the most part, "Nubian Sundance"
is dominated by ostentatious keyboard and synthesizer arrangements along with some dynamic tribalistic percussion.
is perhaps the main highlight of the album. It is very reminiscent of the funkier style of Sweetnighter, making it one of the most accessible and highly enjoyable songs in the album. The alluring basslines of Alphonso Johnson set up the rhythmic framework of the music and the other instruments begin to add their own solo melodies into the mix. "Cucumber Slumber"
perfectly exemplifies the groove-oriented approach that The Weather Report has been striving to achieve since their first encounter with Funk music. This song could certainly be seen as the template that the band would follow in subsequent efforts, completely abandoning their original progressive style for a sound that is more instant. The eponymous track, "Mysterious Traveller"
, is another much more conventional piece, but tends to lean closer to the cosmic soundscapes of Progressive rock than Funk. "Mysterious Traveller"
is a really captivating listen because it has its foot on every territory that The Weather Report has previously ventured in, providing a really mesmerizing musical brew.
The latter portion of the album is much more timid than the dynamic styles of its commencement. "Blackthorn Rose"
even features an all acoustic orchestration, an approach that we've never really heard before by the group. Josef Zawinul and Wayne Shorter thematically direct the song with their piano and saxophone compositions, allowing their intuitive synergy to really shine. Wayne Shorter's solos especially are truly charismatic, but in a very understated fashion. He tends to sort of venture into his own agenda, and erupting with delicate solos to induce a calming environment. There is no real framework that is established in this song, allowing the music a sense of freedom to roam wherever it pleases. The closing piece, "Jungle Book"
, is the most innovative song on the album. It is another to feature African singing, but it also incorporates other eastern influences such as the Indian Tambura and tribalistic percussive exercises near the end. This growing interest in World music proves as yet another musical aspect that will be explored with much more intrigue in the upcoming albums. Mysterious Traveller is often considered to be one of The Weather Report's best efforts to date, and it certainly has its moments of enthralling musicianship that help it live up to that reputation. But what makes this album really enjoyable is that it has something to offer for every fan, as it amalgamates all of the different styles of the past albums with some newfound influences. Mysterious Traveller is sophisticated, innovative, and inspired. It's an album that isn't afraid of leaving its comfort zone to explore new possibilities, while still managing to sound organic and relatively accessible.