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Celebrating the Music of Weather Report

Our critics' picks in new releases

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A quarter-century ago, Weather Report reigned as king of the fusion combos. Propelled by the squiggly synths of Joe Zawinul and the hide-and-seek saxophonics of Wayne Shorter, WR metamorphosed from a space-jam band for eclectics-only (1970) to a high-voltage unit with rock-star swagger and unlimited commercial appeal.

Imagine: an improvising quintet with a smash 45 ("Birdland"). That was Weather Report. The group's spiky melodies remain fresh to this day, as confirmed by this radio-ready tribute assembled by ex-Miles Davis keyboardist Jason Miles. Aficionados of jazz-lite will dig the disc's seamless sonics and digital backbeats. Hipsters, meanwhile, will cheer the energized guest spots by the Brecker Bros. as well as the heads-up repertoire, which revisits forgotten Shorter workouts like "Elegant People," a bodacious bit of multi-culti funk.

Though no reunion would be complete without bass hero Jaco Pastorius, who died in 1987, the success of Celebrating raises the question: Is the marriage of rock-attitude and jazz-smarts a viable concept for the 21st century? Only Zawinul and Shorter, a pair of wizened survivors, know the answer.

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