Why Metallica’s Bassist Is Producing A Jazz Documentary

Written by Adam Ragusea from Georgia Public Broadcasting

It seems an unlikely match.

In one corner, you have Metallica‘s Robert Trujillo. The most popular heavy metal bassist alive, he prowls beast-like across arena stages, rumbling guts with the low B on the 5-string instrument he slings to one side like a battle ax.

In the other, there’s the cult favorite fretless player Jaco Pastorius. Physically slight, manic depressive and dead almost 30 years, his long fingers danced and darted across the instrument’s neck on his self-titled 1976 debut — regarded as one of the best jazz bass albums ever.

The two never spoke. Yet Pastorius has posthumously become Trujillo’s partner in business and music.

A lifelong fan, Trujillo has spent much of his time since Metallica’s last album cycle shepherding and personally bankrolling new Pastorius projects. A documentary film, simply titled Jaco, is slated for release in November. And an album of never-before released Pastorius material, Modern American Music . . . Period! The Criteria Session, comes out Saturday on Omnivore Recordings. Both the movie and the album are official releases of Record Store Day this weekend.

The Criteria Session release came unexpectedly from a lunch meeting Trujillo had with Pastorius’ eldest son Johnny, Record Store Day co-founder Michael Kurtz and Omnivore Recordings co-founder Cheryl Pawelski.

“We’re talking about, ‘Oh, you know, it’d be great if there was some music that could be released,'” Trujillo says. “And Johnny says, ‘Oh yeah, you know, we got the original acetate from the Criteria sessions.’ And it was like, what?”

The sessions at Miami’s Criteria Studio generated Pastorius’ 1974 demo recordings for his legendary debut. Many of his signature phrases and techniques can be heard coalescing into compositions. Some of those compositions have become standard repertoire among elite electric bass players of all styles. He was only 22 years old at the time.

“It’s Jaco, just full of fire and with amazing creative spirit,” Trujillo says. “It’s amazing that someone could play with that precision and that feel, ranging from the funk to the dynamic melodic voice that he had through his instrument, at a young age.”

Trujillo, who will turn 50 this year, says his love of Pastorius shouldn’t come as a surprise. He studied jazz at the Dick Grove School of Music in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s before going on to play with his punk-influenced bands Infectious Grooves and Suicidal Tendencies — “always driven by the funk, though,” he adds.

And Pastorius is often referred to as “the punk of jazz,” Trujillo says. “If Slayer is playing somewhere, and the time is right, I think Jaco would have been the first one to jump in the slam pit.”

Pastorius’ career plunged into decline over the last few years of his life, marred by substance abuse, mental illness and estrangement from his family. He fell into a coma and died following an altercation with a bouncer at a Miami-area club in 1987.

Johnny Pastorius, the bassist’s son, says his family is delighted by Trujillo’s advocacy.

“For us to have him as the flag-bearer and the spokesman for anything new with our father is … I mean, you couldn’t ever ask for anything more,” Pastorius says. “Robert and my father, I think, had a destiny to meet in the end.”

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