Weather Report: American Tango
Mysterious Traveller (Columbia CK 32494)
Ishmael Wilburn (drums), Dom Um Romão (percussion).
Composed by Josef Zawinul & Miroslav Vitous.
Recorded: North Hollywood, CA, February-May 1974
Rating: 88/100 (learn more)
Despite some popular belief, there was a Weather Report before Jaco Pastorius. It was quite a successful band, thank you very much. In fact, Mysterious Traveller was the group's commercial breakthrough. But the album also chronicled the changing of the guard on bass from original member Miroslav Vitous, who performed only on this tune (which he co-wrote), to Alphonso Johnson, who appears on this and the other cuts. In an interview in the 1990s, Johnson said he played electric bass on "American Tango" while Vitous played acoustic. The album credits are unclear on this point, but electric bass is clearly heard.
At the time, Weather Report's co-leader Joe Zawinul expressed admiration for Vitous's musicianship, but thought that since he was a primarily an acoustic bassist and from Europe, he was never going to capture the funk sound that Joe wanted for the band. (Zawinul, who was himself European and a very fine acoustic pianist, was a complicated person. Years after his praise for Vitous, he changed his tune and was much more critical of his musical skills.) Alphonso Johnson, by contrast, was an electric player from Philadelphia. He knew funk. With him on board, the band's sound changed, paving the way for Jaco's highly electric arsenal two years later.
"American Tango" is not one of Weather Report's deepest pieces. But its catchy head arrangement was full of charm, and there was enough synthesizer and electricity on display to please early jazz and fusion fans. Zawinul lays the sounds on thick layer by layer. The tune's pulsing rhythm provides fodder for a short Shorter solo and some more Zawinul noodling. The tune offers a brief respite from the standard fusion attack.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky