With de facto leader Joe Zawinul now even more set on a world music groove-oriented direction than ever, it is hard to place Weather Report even within the broad electric jazz -- or fusion, if you must -- category at this point. But forget labels; this is another superb WR album where the grooves percolate and thump along in an irresistible surge, rhythmic elements pouring in from the Caribbean, Africa, Middle East and the instrument designers at Yamaha, Korg, etc. There are more vocals than ever, mostly wordless chant by guests Carl Anderson, Bobby McFerrin and others, and there is a total departure in the form of an attractive folk-like song sung and played by the new percussionist/guitarist Mino Cinelu. Almost alone among synthesizer players, Zawinul took the trouble to learn how to swing on these instruments, and by Sportin' Life, he had become unstoppable. And Wayne Shorter? His beams of light are still around, as heard most hauntingly in a duet with Zawinul's synths on "The Face on the Barroom Floor." Yet Wayne's presence is just another color in Zawinul's multi-band palette, and as a result, their long partnership was coming to a close despite the still sky-high quality of their music. ~ Richard S. Ginell
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