By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
Fusion. Within music, it's practically a dirty word. Though the term is intended to suggest the magic of endless possibilities, it has an unmistakably loaded ring to it. And much as in the realm of cuisine, anything that bears the "fusion" tag is likely to stir up derision, controversy, and debates about purity.
And not without good reason.
But if any of that was a concern to bass legend and hometown hero Jaco Pastorius when he rose to prominence in 1976, it was all rendered moot by his brash confidence and natural fluidity. That year, no less than five albums came out bearing Jaco's highly individual stamp, which more or less did for the electric bass what Jimi Hendrix's style did for the electric guitar.
Jaco was known for blending genres and breaking most conventional rules of music, both as a frontman for his own group and during his tenure in the pioneering fusion band Weather Report. Fast-forward 30 years, and the current fusion trio of the Bendy Pastorius Group seems to be picking up right where Weather Report left off and, in fact, exploring that approach even further. These relatively young twentysomething musicians take the challenging structures and chord progressions of jazz and give them a fresh twist, so that jazzheads and nonaficionados can dig them at the same time. In working with the more recognizable elements of rock, hip-hop, and R&B and the distinctly modern crossover groove of like-minded acts such as Soulive, The Bad Plus, and Medeski, Martin & Wood, the Bendy Pastorius Group always keeps one foot firmly rooted in tradition. That's no surprise at all, considering it was cofounded by one of Jaco's sons, drummer Julius Pastorius.
It's fitting that the younger Pastorius recently relocated from Deerfield Beach to the New York City area, because the band, which at times includes Julius's twin brother Felix on bass, came together during many trips between New York and Florida. Both Julius and bassist/cofounder Mike Bendy would visit each other and stay for a while in each other's respective towns, writing together and playing gigs.
Though the band didn't make its official debut until last year, the seeds of the Bendy Pastorius Group were planted eight years ago, when Mike noticed the Pastorius brothers in New York City during the 2000 installment of Bass Day, an annual event hosted by Bass Player magazine and the Bass Collective. The three of them hung out the next day, ate some food together, but nothing immediately happened beyond that. Two years later, Mike recalls, he felt compelled to make a pilgrimage to Jaco's gravesite here in Florida. On that trip, he reached out to the Pastorius twins and even showed up at their door unannounced. They received him with open arms, and both Mike and Julius describe an instant personal and musical chemistry between them.
"Right off the bat," Julius explains, "the grooves we were doing just clicked perfectly."
"He's definitely my favorite drummer I've ever played with," Mike enthuses.
Both speak of each other the same way they do with their own blood brothers. In fact it would be years before Felix Pastorius and guitarist John Bendy entered the picture. Until 2007, Mike and Julius played as the duo Shotgun Face during off-time from their respective projects, the Bendy Brothers and Way of the Groove. For more than three years, Shotgun Face stalked clubs and open-mike nights in South Florida and New York before an auspicious turn of events found both sets of brothers together onstage for two impromptu shows in Maine.
On a short East Coast tour, the rest of Way of the Groove's personnel had abandoned ship by the time the group reached Maine, leaving the Pastorius brothers without a band. The Bendys, meanwhile, had shown up simply to hang out with their long-distance friends. Julius says those first performances easily fell into place. The foursome was able to draw on material from both Shotgun Face and the Bendy Brothers, some of which Julius was already familiar with because he'd previously sat in on drums. And then, of course, everyone was heavily steeped in Jaco's work.
When they started out as a full-time quartet, even with two bassists firing away emulating Jaco, everyone onstage made room for each other. As difficult as it is to believe, Julius and Mike insist it's no sweat for the band to accommodate both basses.
"You've gotta keep it tasteful," Mike says. "Can't be fuckin' jerkin' off. We're not trying to show who's got the biggest guns."
Julius's perspective sheds a little more light.
"Their styles are so different," he explains. "They're both so good at listening they were able to work around each other. They both know when to back off and where to come in."
This isn't much of an issue anymore because Felix now lives on the West Coast to better meet the demand for his work as a session and touring sideman. He appears with the band only on a schedule-permitting basis.
But it still takes a deft ear to meld all of this together, which Julius admits is one of his own strengths.