“Jaco”, a documentary about jazz musician Jaco Pastorius

The film delves into another association, with Joni Mitchell, whose albums ‘Hejira’, ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’ and ‘Mingus’ are unimaginable without Pastorius; calling him the bassist for these sessions somehow understates his role. Some of Pastorius’ most striking performance footage in film comes from Mrs. Mitchell’s 1979 tour with a band that also included Michael Brecker on saxophones and Pat Metheny on guitar.6

Mr. Metheny is a conspicuous absence among “Jaco’s” talking heads, and there’s barely a wink to his 1976 album, “Bright Size Life,” one of the discography’s most important entries. of the sideman of Pastorius. Where the film makes up for this and other flaws is in its treatment of Weather Report, which felt like a pressure cooker.

Describing the dynamic between Pastorius and Zawinul, who died in 2007, Robert Thomas Jr., the band’s longtime percussionist, drew a more volatile metaphor: “Two cobras in a very small cage.” Yet Pastorius made a seminal contribution to Weather Report, on the hit album ‘Heavy Weather’ and especially in concert: A Vital New Four-CD Box Set, ‘The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978-1981’ (Columbia/Legacy) , provides all the evidence one might need.

The film charts the subsequent trajectory Pastorius took from an aesthetically ambitious, large-canvas second album, “Word of Mouth,” into increasingly erratic public behavior. A psychiatrist from Bellevue Hospital, where he was interned in 1986, comes forward to reiterate his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. In the end, Pastorius was back in Fort Lauderdale, living in a park. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage after being assaulted by a manager of a nightclub.

“Jaco”, who portrays his subject in better times as a devoted father, is sensitive about his mental illness, and far less provocative than he might be about his death. (Not much is said about the club manager, not even that he only served four months in prison.) At one point, Mr Erskine sadly recalls how Pastorius had become a man cartoon savage, indulging people’s inflated expectations for his behavior. And Mary Pastorius and John Pastorius IV, his eldest children, each reflect touchingly on the father they lost.

At the beginning of the film, during an excerpt from his instructional video, Pastorius seems to engage in a similar reflection. “What got you to this point?” Mr. Jemmott asks clearly, and the awkward, snarky moment of silence that follows is heartbreaking – a reminder that whether Pastorius was the world’s greatest bass player may in fact be one of the least crucial questions to ask about him.