Joe Zawinul is probably best known as the versatile keyboardist for fusion pioneers Weather Report. But his part in the story of American jazz goes back over a decade earlier, when he worked with another pioneer. Julian "Cannonball" Adderley refined a brand of instrumental music known as "soul jazz." Adderley’s alto sax was the fire in the engine of his quintets and sextets, an engine that grooved down the bumpy blue highways of the recently desegregated South.
But if Adderley provided the fuel, the Austrian-born Zawinul often served as navigator, laying out the band’s routes with propulsive, thoughtful compositions. Cannonball Plays Zawinul
, released this past year, is a compilation of 10 of the keyboardist’s maps taken from eight albums Cannonball cut for Capitol Records between 1961 and 1971. There’s much of interest on this disc: road markers that point in the direction Zawinul would later travel with Weather Report; a blend of musics that aptly captures many (though not all) of the modes and means jazz players used in their during the decade; above all, some crazy, jamming jazz with grooves deep enough to get lost in and indefatigable solos you’ll listen to countless times.
The disc gets right to the point with the opening track, "74 Miles Away," with Zawinul’s insistent piano vamp and a solo that kills, a head straight out of hard-bop land but with the rough edges of the form removed, and a classic Cannonball solo that growls and soars, freaks out and soothes. At nearly 14 minutes, the tune moves like the start of an exciting trip, with Drummer Rod McCurdy crashing and rolling along like he’s looking over the driver’s shoulder, following every twist and turn in the road.
"Mystified (aka Angel Face)" is a short, poppy bossa nova out of some groovy ’60s soundtrack - just a little cheesey, but too in-the-pocket to turn to Velveeta - while "Money in the Pocket" is a rump-shaking boogaloo a la Lee Morgan’s "The Sidewinder."
"One Man’s Dream," "Hippodelphia" and "Yvette" bounces over a lot of jazz history in a few short minutes, from straight-ahead to an increasing sense of freedom. By "freedom," I don’t mean Free Jazz, though the band is fearless enough to venture into such terrain; rather I mean a freedom of expression and emotion, particularly an Ellingtonian sense of romance bopper’s eschewed throughout much of the ’50s and ’60s.
No Cannonball Adderley album is complete without a little of the saxophonist’s patter: His voice is as resonant and distinctive as his horn as he introduces one of the songs he and Zawinul were best known for, a straight-ahead version of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy."
"Ndo Lima" finds Adderley and company in African mode, a common gimmick of the late ’60s that didn’t always work. Here, the orchestration is a little odd, but the horn-and-percussion chorus is appropriately evocative. Zawinul later picked up this little figure and turned it into "Badia" for Weather Report, the fate of several other numbers on this disc as well.
The last tune, "Dr. Honorus Causa," Zawinul wrote for his esteemed colleague, Herbie Hancock. This version, cut in 1971, after Zawinul had split the band and was enjoying great success with Weather Report, features George Duke on keys and a distinctly post-electric Miles feel. That’s no coincidence, since Zawinul had a few years earlier joined the Black Prince of Jazz on some of his early forays into the wild, pulsating electric stuff for which Davis became both loathed and adored.
Compilations usually don’t turn me on, but I’ll listen to just about anything the underrated Cannonball Adderley did, and the all-Zawinul program provides an excellent framework, focusing on an excellent bit of a life’s work as huge and full as you’d expect from a guy named Cannonball.