Described by nme.com as “a four string demon”, Jaco Pastorius was arguably the greatest electric bass guitarist to walk the earth since John Entwistle, and continues to hold a revered reputation amongst bassists across the world, including me. The news of a documentary and the release of the film’s theatrical trailer tickled my anticipation to high levels, and I can proudly say that Robert Trujillo’s 2015 passion project is a great representation of Jaco’s career and personal life.
Although normal moviegoers might not appreciate Jaco as a film, it should not be viewed as a mind-boggling piece of cinema, but rather a detailed lesson on one of the most influential musicians of all time. The essential purpose of a documentary is to educate the masses on a subject not commonly known. Jaco more than delivers as a refresher for fans and as a discovery for newcomers. It touches on most of the essential topics in Jaco’s life: his youth, musical career, personal life, mental disorders, and most importantly, his legacy in the musical community. This intriguing and deeply personal story is represented through a wide variety of media, including photos, archive footage, interviews, and music. You might question the over-reliance on grainy Super 8 footage, but it nonetheless provides us to hours of unseen footage and concerts, showing that the filmmakers have really done their homework and respect the material they are handling. As far as their production values go, the style of the titles and montages is gorgeous and oozing with colour, while the high resolution, low depth-of-field shots showcase a level of professionalism for the most part.
Jaco features dozens of famous musicians that offer words on this kingpin of the electric bass, including Flea, Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock and many more. Although the filmmakers fail to capitalise on the big-name bassists, such as Sting, Bootsy Collins, Geddy Lee and Victor Wooten, the undeniable influence of Jaco reverentially acknowledged by these musicians is humbling to listen to, propelling your appreciation of him even further. Moreover, the people who were most important in Jaco’s life and/or those who knew him best are given longer amounts of screen time, and rightly so; the raw authenticity with which they describe Jaco and his demise propel the emotion of the film.
No discussion of Jaco would be complete without mentioning its soundtrack, primarily (and appropriately) comprised of music composed and performed by Jaco himself. While the occasional leitmotifs from the soprano saxophone and the bass guitar harmonics feel a bit too monotonous, it is a very small complaint, because the symphonic-like arrangement of Jaco’s countless compositions throughout the film is so intelligent and mathematical, and it is impossible not to feel chills when you hear the deus-like virtuosity of Jaco’s playing. Coincidentally, the best Jaco compositions are the ones that are utilised the best in the film, such as Continuum, Portrait of Tracy, Donna Lee and Come On, Come Over, all of which happen to be from his eponymous debut album.
We might view films as a means of escape and entertainment, but the really good ones are ones that manage to both distract and educate us. Jaco perfectly achieves both of these objectives, and while it is not as jaw-dropping as Whiplash, it is the perfect medium to transform anyone into a fan of Jaco Pastorius, a unique, tormented and unforgettable individual who reinvented the electric bass the same way Jimi Hendrix did with the guitar.
Rating - ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆