However, notice the word choice of that superlative. Bass player does not imply any skill in songwriting, orchestration, arranging, producing, or anything but simply skill on the bass. That is Jaco’s flaw. In environments where he simply puts his own voice into other compositions, Jaco is brilliant. The album opens with Jaco’s version of one of Charlie Parker’s (although it is debatable that Miles Davis composed it) most difficult and well-known bebop compositions, Donna Lee. Jaco plays at the tempo and with the finesse that Bird would have played it. With only sparse and rather unpredictable congas accompanying him. A song likeDonna Lee allows Jaco to show off his technique and that he does, even when he gets into his own improvisation. His speed and technique is impeccable and unmatched. Still, his improvisation and his melodic lines are nothing spectacular. Nothing really jumps out as being a particularly interesting line; it is just a bunch of fast bass runs. As the song is only 2 and a half minutes, it doesn’t really matter, because the listener will certainly be floored with Jaco’s technique and speed.
The lack of interesting melody is a certain foreshadowing to the rest of the album. Jaco’s compositional skills lack heavily. The music is repetitious and often times Jaco overplays.Come On, Come Over enters directly from Donna Lee, a great transition. Then, a nice groove settles in with synthesizer, some horns, and a vocalist. From there, absolutely nothing happens except Jaco overplaying the entire ensemble and very repetitive and stereotypical vocals. Okonkole Y Trompa revolves around congas and inventive bass harmonics. Once again, the groove is solid. The horn melody sings lyrically but never goes anywhere after playing for a while. The bass harmonics get old and boring after a while, as the song plays for over 4 minutes of that groove. Continuum is one of Jaco’s best compositions, featuring dreamy Fender Rhodes piano and Jaco. It resembles something Weather Report might do, with a much bigger focus on Jaco. The production of the song is very spacey and dreamy, with Jaco jumping all across the fretboard and harmonizing with himself beautifully.
Jaco Pastorius’ self-titled debut is not a bad album by any means. His bass playing is some of the best playing ever recorded. However, he just doesn’t blend with some of the ensembles he puts himself with. Electric bass and a string ensemble? Even Jaco can’t make it work. The string ensemble featured on Speak Like A Child takes a prominent feature, but the string arrangement (done by Jaco) is just ok. Nothing amazing and spectacular. Most of all, Jaco never realizes that even though this is a solo album, he does not have to be the prominent voice during every second of the album. Bass players (myself included) can learn a lot about technique and bass solo style from Jaco, but nothing about composing and arranging. This is a landmark for bass playing, but not so much in jazz music.