Jaco ★★★½

It might be a bit of a cliché to say musicians are a special breed of people because they share in the language of music, but to understand this notion is to understand a tribe of kindred spirits most comfortable on that astral plain where only musicians tread. Once you can appreciate that, the loss of the ability to communicate through music for one of these people becomes heartbreaking. It happened to Jaco Pastorius after he redefined the limitations of what the bass guitar could do and played arenas with jazz fusion groups like Weather Report. His story, which began and ended in Wilton Manors, Florida, is nothing short of a tragedy.

With Jaco, co-directors Paul Marchand and Stephen Kijak follow the classic formula of a documentary focused on an influential creative person gone too soon. There are talking heads, from musicians who worked with him, like Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, to admirers like Sting, Flea and Juan Alderete from The Mars Volta who says, “He’s our Hendrix.” There is also a lot of vintage footage, including plenty of home videos and photographs. Though the directors follow Pastorius’ life chronologically, they also frame it around his creative ethos while dropping in sly reminders of his tragic mental illness.

The film opens with a scene of Pastorius in his destitute later years, interviewed on television, around 1983 or ’84, by famed bassist Jerry Jemmott. Jemmott bestows Pastorius with praise on his influence on music and other bass players. When Jemmott asks him how he feels about being such an influence, Pastorius, who mostly stares down at his battered, scratched up bass perched on his lap, looks up and says, “Give me a gig, you know.” Cut to Jemmot reflecting on this meeting from the current day. He describes Pastorius as someone desperate to communicate and work again after a massively successful tour of Japan that ended with a decent into drugs and alcohol and erratic behavior. It’s the right kind of sad dynamic to set up a movie that refuses to gloss over the flaws of its talented subject.

It’s the directors’ sensitivity to Jaco’s personal turmoil and clear admiration of him as an artist that allows the film to be more than a chronological tale of tragedy ...

Read the rest of my review here:
PureHoney Magazine

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