Not many people are aware of Jaco Pastorius, a bass player who tackled most every musical genre that he wanted to be challenged with, be it jazz, fusion, what have you. And if you haven’t heard of him, chances are he’s worked with a gamut of musicians, or influenced them, like Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, jazz legend Miles Davis or folk artist Joni Mitchell. Pastorius’ talent was only surpassed by his volatility, succumbing to injuries suffered from an assault at the age of 35. Friends, family and admirers remember the peaks and valleys of his life in a documentary entitled Jaco.
The film is co-produced by Robert Trujillo, bassist of Metallica, who was part of a separate documentary about his then-new bandmates in Some Kind of Monster). Featuring interviews from some of the aforementioned, along with Pastorius’ bandmates from Weather Report (where he experienced a good portion of success), we see the brilliance of Jaco’s creativity, but also the tragedy of a man trying to combat bi-polar disorder and alcohol abuse, which became part of a slow and eventual degradation of a powerful, creative talent.
One thing that was notable about Pastorius was that he played with a fretless bass, allowing him more flexibility in attaining chords amongst other advantages. Perhaps it’s best summarized by the last interview subject in the feature; Jaco played the music in the air, while everyone else played the notes. He had a knack of capturing the abstract at times in an amazing manner, and that’s what the film attempts to show, serving as 105 minutes of admiration and occasional regret.
The film does a fine job of showing why people to this day appreciate Jaco’s talent, but the segue to his inevitable decline is also given a fair amount of time. Along with video of showing his incoherence, which became increasingly frequent through the years, the film includes phone messages from Jaco’s friends, talking about his needing help, or getting into trouble worse than that in the months before his death. The film (directed by Stephen Kijak and Paul Marchand) shows us the beginning of the end early on before coming back to it late in the film, along with his children’s painful memories of him at times, including one of his sons, who sees him sleeping on his park bench ‘home’ as a child in a heartbreaking story.
With a film like Jaco, or a similar film on an unfamiliar subject, a big challenge of it is to answer the question of investment for the viewer (‘why should I see this?’), which I think they accomplish, but it seems like a halfhearted response. Basically the approach of bringing in peers to explain WHY the center of a documentary is as revered as they are by using more modern figures to explain it is a little tiring at times. Along with the interviews with Flea and others, we also see some of the more technical aspects of why people liked Jaco. I liked this and would have liked to enjoy it more, but not enough focus was put to it for my tastes.
It’s a minor qualm, as both Jaco the subject and Jaco the film come out better for introducing more people as to why Pastorius is so respected, even three decades after his death. Seeing his issues and free spirited nature is worth checking out, and his technical and improvisational abilities are with little objection. He remains one of the best bassists for a reason.
The film is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and in high-definition using the AVC codec. Generally it looks good, with the contemporary interviews possessing a good amount of image detail and color reproduction. The source material does through in stills, home movies and 4:3 video production footage and handles all of them well without any additional image processing or haloing that would otherwise distract from the image. The film is a labor of love and it shows.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track is just as up to the task. The soundtrack isn’t immersive or involved with things like channel panning or directional effects, but the interviews are all well-balanced and the music sounds clear as a bell, and you can hear the plucking that Jaco does on the occasional song or two. Not overly dynamic, but it does the job.
A plethora of additional interviews and outtakes (1:39:22) which include the previously mentioned interview subjects along with Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Les Claypool, Sting, Geddy Lee and Bootsy Collins, among a few. They talk about recording and/or touring with Jaco, and what was appealing about his technical and creative abilities. Having all the other interviews here is nice but somewhat redundant to the film.
Jaco is a nice look back at a fleeting artist with enormous talent and refused to accept being labelled, despite his best efforts to do otherwise. With recollections from those who knew him and those who didn’t, but admired him, it’s a nice look into an interesting life. Technically, the disc looks and sounds fine, and the additional interviews are good also. Definitely worth checking out.
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