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Jazz Reviews : Weather Report In New Guise At Greek

September 29, 1986|LEONARD FEATHER

The first local appearance of Weather Update on its initial tour might have been expected to be a strong box-office attraction. Surprisingly, perhaps due to the threat of rain or because of some confusion about the group's name, attendance Saturday at the Greek Theatre was a dismal 1,600.

This is Weather Report in its new guise, with one notable change: Wayne Shorter is missing, his sax having given way to the guitar of Steve Kahn. The others are all familiar faces: Josef Zawinul on synthesizer; Victor Bailey on bass, Robert Thomas Jr. on percussion and, back in the drum chair, Peter Erskine.

The new quintet is not all that different, given that Shorter's role both as soloist and composer had diminished almost to the vanishing point and that guitarist Carlos Santana was a guest on the final Weather Report album. The basic sound has changed minimally.

Nor has Zawinul turned his back on a long and distinguished past. Included in the program were the earlier "Dr. Honoris Causa" and "Madagascar." Most of the material, much of it his own, was drawn from the recent "This Is This" set, from "Man With the Copper Fingers" (with Erskine in demonically vital form) to "Consequently," written by and featuring Bailey.

Zawinul is the arbiter of the group's personality. The leader remained in total command, spelling out dramatic themes and dreaming up vivid variations, building rich orchestral textures on his synthesizers and buzzing eerie vocal monotones through a vocoder.

Bobby Thomas sang his "Special Love," intoning the inane lyrics to dubious effect. Erskine provided an interesting solo on a tuned instrument that suggested a cross between steel drums and a marimba.

It's hard to predict what lies ahead for Weather Update. Though Shorter will be missed, the power of Zawinul's personality seems likely to sustain the popularity of the group. However, Steve Kahn, though a capable and versatile soloist, is not the central contributor that Shorter was for so long.

Opening the evening was John McLaughlin, leading a new Mahavishnu ensemble that relies mainly on the leader's chameleonic forays on electric guitar. His chief partner is saxophonist Bill Evans, whose whirlwind lines were at times too chaotic. On the slower pieces, he showed restraint on soprano sax, but his tenor solos usually contributed to the farrago of volume. Toward the end, Jonas Hellborg tossed in an impressive bass solo. Jim Beard on keyboard and Danny Gottlieb on drums rounded out the unit.

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