Robert Trujillo Presents JACO – Depicting The Life of a Jazz Bass Great (DVD REVIEW)

Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo’s cinematic exploration of the life of bassist Jaco Pastorius is as comprehensive as the genius musician’s range of influences. In the first few minutes of the film, the Metallica bassist, along with co-directors Paul Marchand and Stephen Kijak, waste no time illustrating the scope of their subject’s talent as well as hinting at the frailties that accompanied it. The smooth jumps in the video depict Pastorius musical and personal roots in Florida then gracefully transition to interview segments full of’ awed acclamation from musicians including Herbie Hancock and Sting.

Pastorius’ eccentricities come to the fore almost as immediately, but placed in almost exclusive musical contexts to start with, unless the viewer’s aware of the eventual path of his life, the suspense is no more or less latent than in the story of any famous musician’s career. It’s to Trujillo and company’s credit that they allow their carefully-edited footage speak for itself, as with that of Jaco playing for Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter. It’s an insinuating approach that makes the next chapter in the story, involving the iconic jazz-fusion band Weather Report, all that much more engrossing.

The rhapsodic tone with which such co-musicians as that group’s percussionist Alex Acuna, as well as its co-founder/leader Wayne Shorter, speak of Jaco Pastorius’ work might seem over the top except that they’re placed in the context of the eclectic explosion of the times when jazz rock fusion was heading toward its apogee. Appropriately enough, interviews with Pastorius’ children take the movie in a more somber direction, this immediately following Joni Mitchell’s recount of her time working with the bassist/composer. The pattern(s) of self-destruction that prevailed in the latter part of Jaco’s life are always juxtaposed with the man’s musical exploits, but the negative impact of his idiosyncrasies eventually becomes unmistakable, despite the fact concert footage (with transitory shots of wunderkind guitarist pat Metheny) seemingly only illustrate an artist giving full rein to his creative impulses, i.e. teases of Hendrix interwoven into a solo spot in concert.

The filmmakers allow such segments to go on longer than many of the interviews or locale settings, rightly intimating that Pastorius’ talent derived in part from the same source as his growing inability to deal with the so-called real world on its own terms. It’s an empathetic approach and a wholly objective one as well, rightfully emphasizing Jaco’s talents didn’t necessarily diminish in direct proportion to his physical/mental decline, but only that changing circumstance made it difficult for him to work with others and simultaneously continue nurturing his multiple skills

It’s at this point the superb pacing of Jaco becomes most evident, Trujillo et. al. refuse to give short shrift to the growing realization of Pastorius’ mental illness, but view it objectively, never overlooking the man’s devotion to his family and children. And that theme works as an implicit segue to inspection of next phase of the Pastorius’ career, though his high-priced albeit fitful work for Warner Brothers resulting in Word of Mouth; it’s here the musician’s increasingly prevalent use of intoxicants rises to the forefront, almost as if it was inevitable, except that here those habits began to affect his music. The painful irony of this sequence of events takes place despite the appellation of ‘cult figure’ rightfully applied to Jaco around this time: he was receiving rabid accolades and reception to his music, in Japan for instance, but that was in contrast to the (at best) mixed reaction from label execs and former Weather Report collaborator Joseph Zawinul.

The intuitive skill of the filmmakers becomes even more apparent as the film in its latter stages assumes the halting, back and forth of Jaco’s life as the mid-Eighties come and go. Diagnosis of bi-polar disorder may well have come too late with too little support given the extent to which the condition had already been exacerbated by drink and drugs. But the rush of images leading up to Jaco Pastorius’ death, including a Miles Davis performance tribute, renders the film’s conclusion all the more poignant, effectively setting the stage for the ample reflections contained on the second DVD in this set; it’s a pure pleasure on its own to hear more varied and extended ruminations on the man and his career offered with all due affection and reverence by the diverse likes of Geddy Lee and Sting. The insight into Jaco’s musical mind and naturally playful temperament, particularly the comments from Herbie Hancock and Mark Egan, beautifully frames this portrait of a prodigiously gifted musician.

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