Dirty Loops’ Henrik Linder (best Justin Bieber cover evar!), Vulfpeck’s Joe Dart, and YouTuber Charles Berthoud are all bass monsters in a golden age of musicianship. But “Havona” by Weather Report is a different level. In my memory Jaco Pastorius attacks with 16th notes in every DAH-DAAHHHHH refrain, but it’s a magic trick: he can suggest max propulsion even playing legato long notes. And the rest of the band pushes and pulls and drops out to keep the song building and flowing into and around his two bass solos.
It’s not head and shoulders above any other band’s bass showpiece (e.g. Yes’s “On the Silent Wings of Freedom”); Jaco assembled a penthouse on Mount Olympus.
Don’t underestimate Wayne Shorter
Now play it again (Sam) and listen carefully to Wayne Shorter hold back on sax. He’s not merely providing sax flourishes as he does on some Joni Mitchell songs; his contributions are lag bolts drilled deep in the song construction holding it together. His legato lines at 0:43 are perfect, his dah-DAAAAH two-note refrains are perfectly low-volume instead of over-the-top honking, his solo at 2:00 ending in blue notes leaves space for Jaco, his yelps at 3:01 are perfect punctuation, his trills 4:27 and on are perfect, his unison playing with Jaco 4:37 is 😘, and those staccato sax notes 5:38 decelerating the end of the song (after Jaco and Joe Zawinul have 16th-noted their hands to a pulp) are only obvious in hindsight.
It’s a phenomenal contribution to the band’s performance. Without it “Havona” would be an amazing bass performance instead of the greatest jazz fusion instrumental of all time.
Jaco Pastorius, Joni Mitchell, …
Now listen to Jaco Pastorius’ eponymous solo album (full of the best bass solos but not the best song-with-bass), his bass playing on Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, and his off-the-charts/off-the-wall funky interplay on Joni Mitchell’s live “God Must Be a Boogie Man.”
Update: oh noooo, another great leaves us. RIP Wayne Shorter (August 25, 1933 – March 2, 2023).