WEATHER REPORT — Mysterious Traveller (review)

WEATHER REPORT — Mysterious Traveller album cover Album · 1974 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
dreadpirateroberts
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.
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