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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Stuttgart Aria

Le Chant du Monde 274 1596



1. American Boy
2. Donna Lee
3. Stuttgart Aria I
4. Jaco Reggae
5. The Chicken
6. Teresa
7. Stuttgart Aria II
8. Days of Wine and Roses
Biréli Lagrène - Guitars, background vocals
Jaco Pastorius - Fender bass, piano, vocals
Vladislav Sendecki - Keyboards, synthesisers
Peter Lübke - Drums
Serge Bringolf - Percussion, background vocals
Jan Jankeje - Bass synthesiser, background vocals (tracks 6, 8)

French guitarist Biréli Lagrène is probably best known as an exponent of manouche  music - in other words, the sort of "gipsy jazz" that owes an immense amount to Django Reinhardt. Yet Biréli had wide horizons and was intrigued by such groups as Weather Report and he recorded with John McLaughlin and Larry Coryell. So it was no surprise that he did some concerts with Jaco Pastorius, the most iconic of Weather Report's bassists and the man who made the fretless bass fashionable.

This studio album was recorded in March 1986: the same year that Biréli and Jaco played concerts in Europe. Pastorius was already a sick man from his use of drugs and/or drink, and he died the following year. Yet despite sometimes sounding subdued compared with Lagrène, he still plays masterfully. Knowing what was to come, it is particularly poignant to hear Jaco playing Days of Wine and Roses, the theme tune from a film about alcohol addiction.

Many of the tracks are in jazz-fusion vein but these are mixed with other approaches. Stuttgart Aria I even has Pastorius singing on a disco-style number ("Hey baby, let yourself go"). The sleeve-note is perhaps over-emphatic in pointing out the album's deficiencies, saying "Let's face it - this album is not perfect and certainly doesn't do complete justice to the talent of either of the protagonists, nor to the sparks they let fly on stage". The sleeve writer suggests that Biréli and Jaco were too busy listening to one another to fully let themselves go - and the "musicians hadn't done the proper preparatory work for this session". But when was it ever bad for jazz musicians to listen to each other? And the lack of preparation may simply foster the spontaneous nature of the music.

In any case, both the main artists really seem to be enjoying their collaboration. They play near their very best, and the ultra-fast version of Donna Lee is a tour de force. Other outstanding tracks are the delicately lilting Teresa and Jaco Reggae, which underpins jazzy soloing from Biréli with a subtle reggae rhythm laid down by Jaco's bass. Admittedly some tracks seem overloaded with synthesisers but this just adds to the overall richness of sound.

This was possibly Jaco Pastorius' last recorded album but, whatever his physical state, he could still play the bass like nobody else. And Biréli Lagrène again proves his versatility as well as his exceptional technique.

Tony Augarde





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