Somnambule - Writing About Music

Weather Report ~ Mysterious Traveller

Digitally Remastered
New Liner Notes”

So says the sticker on the case - but hey! my original Columbia Jazz Contemporary Masters cd says “Digitally Remastered” on the front as well AND it’s got liner notes as well. Oh well. First off, they’ve removed the horrible burgundy-ish border and the irritating Columbia Jazz roundel for this version. Oh and there appears to have been some remastering of the image: the cropping and colours are fairly different. What’s that you say? Shut up going on about the cover – you’re interested in the music? Fair enough. The sound is certainly clearer, crisper, but if you have the original cd I’d say don’t bother shelling out for the remastering – unless you’re a BIG fan that is – Mysterious Traveller wasn’t as atrocious a job as the first issues of Miles Davis’s 70s albums (for which I still think we should all get a refund).

Mysterious Traveller was Weather Report’s fourth studio album and the successor to Sweetnighter, I Sing The Body Electric and the eponymous first album (Live In Tokyo was only recently released in full outside Japan). I’ve always been a fan of the early Weather Report albums and found Mysterious Traveller and its successors to be a little on the ‘lite’ side. I’m grateful for the chance to reassess this rather lazy view.

Nubian Sundance kicks in with two drummers and a percussionist, but there’s a curious feeling of suspension akin to watching Muybridge’s horse forever galloping, never moving forward. On top of this there’s a lot of bass, a lot of Rhodes, synthesizers, crowd sounds and vocals which together create the wonderful impression of a neon-lit rainforest peopled by Rio carnival celebrants. After the festival comes American Tango’s more reflective pace like wandering in the shadows of a Mediterranean sidestreet, the keyboard melody languorous as sleepy sex in morning sunlight. Cucumber Slumber (what great titles they had!) is all electric bass, sax, Rhodes and chugging drums. Mysterious Traveller slips in spookily then revs up to a rhythmic workout that recalls Sweetnighter. After all the colour and wonderful grandstanding of the previous four tracks, Blackthorn Rose’s acoustic duet between Wayne and Zawinul arrives like a welcome, meditative oasis. Scarlet Woman steals in with a plangent sax call, muted desert drum and synthesized wind and slowly steals away again. The album closes with Jungle Book’s reflectiveness, as if recalling the events of a long hot day after the sun has set.

On Mysterious Traveller Weather Report were clearly growing, employing a wider palette of sounds, conjuring different moods: the music is sunnier, more upbeat, colourful and funky than its predecessors. On attentive (re)listening I finally get the album’s form and flow and can place it alongside its predecessors to be enjoyed for its own generous wonders. Not worth buying for the remastering alone, but if you don’t own this album – go get! (I’m off to investigate its successors.)

Colin Buttimer
July 2002
Published by the BBC