From the vault: 1971
Joe Zawinul was already a name to be reckoned with by the time this landmark album set the direction for Weather Report. His time with Cannonball Adderley had produced a hit in Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, and he had made decisive contributions to two influential Miles Davis albums, In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew.
But he had not yet made a solo recording that did more than hint at what he was capable of - and here he stakes his claim to his own musical territory.
A grateful Davis called the music on Zawinul 'cliche free' in an uncharacteristically effusive sleeve note, and if it seems a little less so today it is only because Weather Report, which was effectively born during the sessions, inspired so many imitators.
The band assembled to perform and develop the score included Herbie Hancock at the other electric piano, George Davis on flute, Woody Shaw on trumpet and Earl Turbinton on soprano sax. Miroslav Vitous and Walter Booker handled the two basses, and drum and percussion duties were split between Joe Chambers, Billy Hart and David Lee.
There was some lineup shuffling, and accordingly it's tempting to see Double Image, on which Wayne Shorter replaces Earl Turbinton, as the album's key track, featuring as it does Zawinul, Shorter and Vitous together for the first time on record.
It is an exciting meeting of minds, but the long opener, Doctor Honoris Causa, dedicated to Hancock, who had just received an honorary doctorate from Grinnell University in Des Moines, Iowa, is just as strong a composition, and
the glacial In a Silent Way is approached quite differently from the studied primitivism of Davis' take on the tune.
The mixture of acoustic and electric instruments, and the leader's superb ear for the then still largely unexplored possibilities of electronic keyboards, have left Zawinul still sounding largely undated, even by comparison with some later Weather Report albums.
His sadly premature death a few weeks ago from a form of skin cancer will doubtless prompt a critical re-evaluation of his music. This album is central to his wide-ranging achievements.