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Wax Wednesday No. 3: Black Market

What is Wax Wednesday? How did I get here? What’s the meaning of life? All that and more here: http://kjhk.org/web/2017/03/01/wax-wednesday-1-turnstiles/

Record of the Week: Black Market by Weather Report

It has come to my attention that the past two records I’ve reviewed for this column have been records that I’ve owned for quite some time. So, for this week I thought I would do a record that I’ve only had for about two months and only paid about five bucks for, yet has quickly risen to become one of my favorites. That being Weather Report’s 1976 magnum opus Black Market.

Apart from playing a few instruments in my high school Jazz Band, I wouldn’t say I’m all that familiar with the genre of Jazz. At least, not as much as I am with a more “contemporary” genre like Hip-Hop or EDM. Regardless, I enjoy all types of music, and Jazz certainly falls under that category. So, I had very much heard of the band Weather Report and stories of how their members were “the greatest of all time, like you don’t even know man” and “their sound is like nothing you’ve ever heard”. After listening to Black Market, I’d agree with both sentiments.

Before discussing the record though, I think it’s important to recognize that this Fusion Jazz album came out at an interesting point in Jazz’s lifespan. Just six years prior, Trumpeter and Bona-fide musical genius Miles Davis had released “Bitches Brew”, an experiment in what Jazz could be, fusing traditional instrumentation methods with Rock sensibilities to create Fusion, an entirely new mutation of Jazz that would become its own genre. The result was a sound that would soon fill elevators across the world.

All jokes aside, Black Market is anything but elevator music. On the surface, the album seems to be all over the place, with saxophone and bass solos colliding every which way, only to be thrown back into an early synthesizer based melody. Others seem to float aimlessly, never knowing whether they will land on the right notes or chords to make the song make sense. However, upon further listening, I think something very interesting is revealed: just how f*****g good these guys are at their instruments. Even on the solos that seem to be clashing with each other, you can tell the musicians have complete and utter control of their instruments and know exactly what they’re doing. It builds up this sense of trust, to where, even when it sounds like there’s no way in hell this song should sound as good as it does, you know the band members will somehow find a way to bring the song back to the main hook and make it sound fantastic doing so. I’ve heard very few records, jazz or not, with such technical mastery of the instruments on display.

Speaking of the sound, Black Market also finds ways to push the envelope. One would not expect a synthesizer to fit right in with traditional smooth jazz, a genre known for sticking pretty heavily to a formula (see above elevator music joke). But it more than fits right in, it compliments and bring a wonderful experimental flair to the record. This is not to say it comes off as gimmicky either, as the funky synths blend right in with the soulful blend of somewhere between Stevie Wonder and 70’s Giorgio Morodor.  I believe this is best exemplified on my personal favorite track and the closer of the album, “Herandu”. With bright synths and a soaring sax that permeates the entire track, the hook almost sounds like something Daft Punk might have left on the cutting room floor making Random Access Memories. This blend of new (at the time) technologies while still holding onto jazz fundamentals and infusing genres like Funk and Latin create a wonderful experiment in what not just jazz, but music, can be.

I highly recommend Black Market by Weather Report if you like Jazz, Fusion or just need something new that you might not have heard before. Even though it’s over 40 years old, the record still feels like a breath of fresh air and a challenge to artists today to experiment and create something new.