WEATHER REPORT — Mysterious Traveller

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WEATHER REPORT - Mysterious Traveller cover
3.92 | 27 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 1974

Filed under Fusion


A1 Nubian Sundance 10:40
A2 American Tango 3:42
A3 Cucumber Slumber 8:22
B1 Mysterious Traveller 7:18
B2 Blackthorn Rose 5:02
B3 Scarlet Woman 5:47
B4 Jungle Book 7:20

Total Time: 48:18


- Alphonso Johnson /Bass (tracks: A1, A2, A3, B1, B3)
- Miroslav Vitous /Bass (tracks: A2)
- Dom Um Romao /Drums (tracks: B3)
- Ishmael Wilburn /Drums (tracks: A1, A2, A3, B1)
- Skip Hadden /Drums (tracks: A1, B1)
- Dom Um Romao /Percussion (tracks: A1, A2, A3, B1, B3)
- Ray Barretto /Percussion (tracks: A3)
- Wayne Shorter /Saxophone, Piano [Tac], Conch [Sea Shell]
- Isacoff /Tabla, Cymbal [Finger Cymbals] (tracks: B4)
- Steve Little /Timpani (tracks: B3)
- Dom Um Romao /Triangle, Tambourine, Cabasa (tracks: B4)
- Auger James Adderley /Vocals (tracks: A2)
- Billie Barnum /Vocals (tracks: A1)
- Edna Wright /Vocals (tracks: A1)
- James Gilstrad /Vocals (tracks: A1)
- Jessica Smith /Vocals (tracks: A1)
- Marti McCall /Vocals (tracks: A1)
- Joe Zawinul /Vocals, Piano, Synthesizer, Electric Piano, Electric Piano [Rhodes], Melodica, Percussion, Piano [Tac], Drums [Clay], Kalimba, Maracas, Organ

About this release

Columbia – KC 32494 (US)

Recorded at Devonshire Sound, North Hollywood, California

Thanks to snobb for the updates


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On ‘Mysterious Traveller’ a shuffling of the line-up enables a step toward the funkier, slicker fusion the band would soon be playing, but a sound they hadn’t full embraced just yet, as not every piece turns away from the more ethereal music of earlier albums.

The first few Weather Report albums produced some of my favourite pieces in jazz fusion, but across this record I don’t find the funkier pieces as effective. This doesn’t mean I think ‘Mysterious Traveller’ irreversibly flawed either, but ‘Cucumber Slumber’ for instance, doesn’t seem to have enough variation to hold my interest the whole way through. New bassist Alphonso Johnson certainly adds some pep to the piece, but I find the group’s approach to funk much more satisfying on the exciting ‘Nubian Sundance’ which also incorporates some African elements, mixed in with Zawinul’s sonic layering. In fact, he trots out a fair range of sounds on the song, seeming to have a great time with Wilburn’s urgent beat to ride atop of.

While some of Zawinul’s explorations on the keys don’t exactly fall down, something like the moody ‘Scarlet Woman’ is fascinating to me – because I can’t decide whether I enjoy it or find my ears getting ‘zapped’ every time he and Shorter sync up. While you’ll hear less of Shorter on this album than on prior releases, he still gets time for a nice solo on the title track, whereas elsewhere, on the more ambient pieces, he’s much more supportive, as if considering the effect of every note.

‘Jungle Book’ is quite a gentle closer, but one less sombre than the surprising ‘American Tango,’ which is still one of my favourite Weather Report pieces. Vitous’ only credit on the album, this piece is something of a stumbling ballad, with what should be jarring keys from Zawinul – but somehow their spacey immediacy gives the song something extra, even with what’s almost an awkward, lumbering and brief detour in there just before the long fade, with Shorter’s soprano tugging at the heart.

A Top Fifty Billboard release, this album would be something of a gateway between their more commercially successful period and the ‘In a Silent Way/Bitches Brew’ influenced output of their first three albums. Still one of my favourites of theirs, and probably not one that should be overlooked due to its transitional aspects.
The infamous comet-of-the-20th-century named Kohoutek that zipped by our planet in '73 and conceitedly ignored us was one of the most phenomenal flops in the history of astronomy. Conversely, the album that it inspired, Weather Report's "Mysterious Traveller," is anything but. While that innocuous chunk of orphaned space ice failed to inaugurate the end-of-the-civilized-world events predicted by every pseudo- psychic and sideline soothsayer who could hijack a microphone, the LP that features on its cover that tiny orb's graceful (though grossly exaggerated) tail as it streaks through the early evening sky (I vaguely remember seeing it and remarking that it looked more like a comma than a comet) marked a distinct change in the musical direction of one of jazz/rock fusion's most innovative and influential groups. "Streetnighter," the excellent record that preceded it, offered sneak peek glimpses of the rich aural renderings they would unveil in full, wide- screen Technicolor on this disc but none of their fans anticipated the astounding depth and creativity that these tunes possess in such abundance. Few albums guide the listener through art galleries consisting solely of sounds like this one does. This, in the most elemental of definitions, is adventuresome music at its finest. It seems to be the core nature of the beast that the best art, more often than not, miraculously springs forth from the harshest strife and gnarliest gnashing of teeth. That being the case, this bumper crop of tunes predictably grew out of soil that had been ravaged by ugly storms of dissention. Founding member/respected bassist Miroslav Vitous had butted heads with keyboard wizard Josef Zawinul so many times that they had permanent dents in their combat helmets. So when sax man extraordinaire Wayne Shorter reluctantly broke the tie by siding with Joe in that war of wills Vitous bid them a terse "adios" and drove off into the sunset amid squealing tires and a thick cloud of acrid smoke. With the remaining duo already on their third drummer, it's surprising that they'd manage to tape anything approaching cohesive, much less impressive under those circumstances but, as I pointed out, the tastiest fruit comes from trees that've been pruned back the most severely. Recruiting the services of drummer Ishmael Wilburn and bassist Alphonso Johnson was one of the smartest decisions Zawinul and Shorter ever made because together with percussionist Dom Um Romao they made one of the most transcendent fusion albums ever. Weather Report's 1974 release, "Mysterious Traveller," is a masterpiece of the modern jazz/rock genre.

When reviewing this band's work it's important to educate the uninitiated to the fact that recognizable terms such as verse, chorus and bridge don't apply. The oft misunderstood label of "soundscapes" is much more descriptive of what's being presented here and I find that I must indulge in some extravagant prose to express myself. (Please forgive me in advance.) These compositions are like paintings done in the style of pointillism in that you must back up a few steps to discern the distinct images that appear out of what, if you look too closely, appears to be random dots of color. I would also encourage you turn up the volume so as to hear every nuance. Go ahead, crank it. The louder the better because you don't want to miss a single note. Trust me on this.

They open with Josef's synthesizer trumpeting as if to herald the entrance of a pharaoh and his entourage. "Nubian Sundance" sports an energized grandeur that conjures up in my vivid imagination a huge throng gathered around the ancient pyramids for a festival of epic proportions. (Yes, I read that he used crowd noise recorded at the Rose Bowl but I'd greatly appreciate it if you didn't bring that up and rain on my dream parade here. Thanks.) The African language Zawinul adopts for his incidental vocalizations gives this piece an exotic tint as the two drummers, Wilburn and guest Skip Hadden, lay down a rhythmic heartbeat-on-adrenaline pattern underneath. One of the many fascinating aspects of Weather Report's music is how unexpected moments of synthesized glory often billow up out of nowhere and this track is not excluded from that club. There's so much happening during this 7+ minute song that I recommend you try not to dissect/analyze it too much and just let your mind be swept away. As good as it is, however, you ain't heard nothin' yet.

While Miroslav may have long since left the building in a huff, he left a fingerprint behind in the form of his and Josef's "American Tango." This tune calmly falls into place bit by bit, then Zawinul's synths create some cool, other-worldly magic before Shorter's saxophones wade in to dance around him gracefully. It's a comparatively short-lived excursion but sometimes valuable gifts come in small packages. Vitous was without doubt a monster player but evidently a total lack of soul food in his upbringing was his Achilles heel and that deficiency led directly to his estrangement from Josef and Wayne. (Hey, the dude can't help that Czechs and funk are rarely mentioned in the same sentence!) I'm a fool for slick funkadelia and new guy Johnson ably supplies that ingredient bountifully on the joyride that is "Cucumber Slumber." Alphonso is fluidly fluent in that street-taught dialect but his studio experience keeps him from becoming overbearing in his delivery. I'll admit that I'm also an all-day sucker when it comes to folks combining catchy hook lines with their fusion and this tune has one that's deliciously wicked. Shorter is clever but stingy with his saxophone injections and Zawinul's electric piano noodlings are never more than what is called for. They both know full well that the whole is always more important than the parts.

Next up is the disc's namesake, "Mysterious Traveller." The brief, obligatory cosmic introduction is misleading, though, because it turns out that the celestial intruder portrayed in this song isn't the smooth operator we expected to encounter. He doesn't effortlessly glide across the heavens but prefers to confound us with strange herky-jerky movements and antics. Yet when he reaches his apex overhead he astounds us with a massive, shimmering corona of intense brilliance that floods the globe with light. This cut is a thrilling journey of discovery as it passes by and eventually disappears into the ether. (Kohoutek should've hired a choreographer!) Wayne's "Blackthorn Rose" follows and it is drop-dead gorgeous. Complex, yet emotional. Midway through the number this particular bloom magnificently opens its petals to the morning sunrays and the fragrance it emits is intoxicating. The intuitive interplay between Shorter and Zawinul (the sole participants involved) is a wonder to behold. And Wayne's sensuous tone is one that even the late, great Paul Desmond would applaud in admiration.

Emerging from beyond the horizon like an ominous fog, "Scarlet Woman" is as unpredictable as a sexy female's flirtatious intentions. Josef's slightly distorted electric piano adds an air of wariness and intrigue to the proceedings and the instrumental's repeating riff cuts right through your consciousness like a scalpel. Last but certainly not least is Zawinul's "Jungle Book," a delightfully delicate tune that conveys a sensation of muffled distance as if you were observing children playing just outside your windows. The rare inclusion of Josef's acoustic guitar in the mix really sets this number apart from all the others. There's a naïve and innocent feeling of happiness that frolics unimpeded through this track yet it never becomes predictable or pretentious. It has a unique charm all its own.

I realize that it's a minority of the followers of Weather Report that regard this album as highly as I do (although it did earn Downbeat Magazine's prestigious "album of the year" award) but it touches me in a personal way that not all of their other offerings do. I continue to be impressed even decades later by its perfect consistency and I always love how it elevates my mood every time I plop it onto my turntable. If you haven't delved into this group's sound yet you should and this exemplary recording would be a great place to start. Let me assure you that while they were sailing fearlessly into uncharted waters with this LP, their music is not discordant, abstract or difficult to digest. Their songs are like elaborate fantasies. What symphonic prog was to standard rock & roll fare, this group's visionary material was to contemporary jazz. They weren't content to blithely dazzle their audience with flashy runs up and down the diatonic scale, they took them on a voyage to places they'd never been to and, on "Mysterious Traveller," they took me to paradise.

Members reviews

Although it's highly praised in fusion circles, I personally don't find Weather Report's Mysterious Traveller to be quite the classic it's made out to be. It isn't helped by the fact that it's a transitional album, in which founder member Miroslav Vitous bows out to make way for new bassist Alphonso Johnson, and in which the band begin to experiment with African-inspired rhythms. The most successful track is probably Nubian Sundance, which is genuinely exciting and engaging, but the rest of the album is extremely laid back and, at points, seems to back away from fusion entirely and edge towards more traditional jazz forms. The jazz lover in me wonders why the band can't just play straight jazz without adding unnecessary fusion frills to the pure-jazz tracks, whilst the fusion lover in me finds the album hard to focus on and directionless.
Sean Trane
By WR’s fourth album, Mysterious Traveller, the metamorphosis of the sizzling jazz-rock group to a groovy funky fusion-jazz was almost complete, as the whole scene was now slowly doing do by early 74, and the group not even bothering with a stable line-up anymore. Keeping only Um Romao as a permanent fixture, the Shorter-Zawinul duo is hitting full stride in their new direction, with Alphonso Johnson on bass. Graced with a mystic comet photo, this album shows just how red hot this combo could become once on stage.

Starting with the live-recorded lengthy Nubian Sundance (from Bitches Brew maybe?), the album has a full funk flavour due to Johnson’s bass play (even when Vitous returns on American Tango) that will pervade/proliferate throughout the whole album. Unless you are into this typical funk-jazz, most likely that you’ll be quickly bored with Cucumber Slumber (sleepy carrot, yourself ;-): don’t get me wrong this is flawlessly played, but rather too easy once settled into their groove, it is all soloing away. The no-less groovy funk title track (with a cosmic synth background) repeats the formula, albeit with a slightly evolving twist.

Scarlet woman is also a very repetitive track, but for some reasons, there is a little added drama with Shorter’s descending sax lines (he’s doubled by Zawinul’s synth) that serves the track well, even if it no cornerstone. Blackthorn Rose is just a Joe-Wayne duo, which brings some change of pace to the album, but very little added interest, especially once it gets dissonant. A delicate, but ultimately boring Jungle Book might be the second highlight of a rather weak album, IMHO

A rather dull and flawed (repetitive) album after three superb albums, MT is the first album that any real proghead can do without, unless he has a strong affinity for Hancock’s Headhunters period. Such is not the case, as I prefer Hancock’s Mwandishi period, which could be better compared (if you’ll allow such shortcuts) with WR’s first two albums.

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