Released in 1976 under Sony Music Entertainment, Weather Report’s seventh studio album, Black Market, is a jazz-fusion record that soon became a classic. The album combines influences of jazz, fusion, and funk, in addition to elements of groove and melody from different cultures from around the world. An eclectic record, Black Market is still accessible to the everyday listener. The album also saw the Weather Report debut of electric bassist Jaco Pastorius, who is featured twice on the record; the addition of Jaco made Weather Report’s style more accessible to all listeners.
Black Market fades into the first tune, the title track, with a drum and bass groove; underneath the music is the texture for the entire record, the “black market,” sounds of indiscernible voices. After the crowd fades out, more instruments make their way into the mix. With a fretless bass, a moog synth, and instruments from a variety of cultures, this track sets up the record properly. The second track, “Cannon Ball,” begins tenderly with a phased Rhodes keyboard and a simplistic melody played on the bass; the track soon takes a turn towards a more non-diatonic nature for a moment, and then segues back into the main melody, featuring a blend of a saxophone and analog synthesizer.
“Gibraltar” and “Herandnu” feature Alphonso Johnson on bass; equally as effective as Jaco, these two tracks highlight Alphonso’s contribution to the growth of this album. “Gibraltar” is the first, darker, hard hitting track on the record, featuring slightly more experimental melodic and harmonic ideas. The album then turns back to a more conventional (but musically intelligent) approach with “Elegant People.” “Barbary Coast” is definitely the most funk-oriented track on the record. Built upon a continuous bass line and circular groove, the melody and harmony are allowed to change and develop as the song progresses.
The album concludes with “Herandu,” a somber and ethereal tune with a heavy groove. As the tune develops, the emergence of heavier and grittier sounds become more and more prevalent, as electric guitars and synthesizers work their way into a masterful production.
In many ways, even though Black Market was one of Weather Report’s most accessible albums for the general public, it was also one of the group’s most experimental records. The group used unconventional elements of melody and groove to create experimental yet accessible tunes; Weather Report’s decision to strive for accessibility was a musical challenge, but ultimately proved to be the right choice.
Joe Zawinul – Yamaha Grand Piano, Rhodes Electric Piano, Arp 2600 Synthesizer, Oberheim Polyphonic Synthesizer, Production, Orchestration
Wayne Shorter – Selmer soprano and tenor saxophones, Computone Lyricon, Co-Production
Alphonso Johnson – Bass
Jaco Pastorius – Bass
Alex Acuna – Percussion, Congas
Don Alias – Percussion, Congas
Narda Micheal Walden – Drums
Chester Thompson – Drums