After almost sixty years of uninterrupted piano playing and composing, Joe Zawinul (born in Vienna, July 7, 1932), one of the most influential jazz musicians of the past century, hasn’t lost any of his energy and continues to attract new, extremely talented musicians in his groups. He r reminds us of Miles who had Zawinul, not only as a keaboard payer, but also as a composer in his electric group when he recorded his legendary albums ‘In a Silent Way’ (the title piece is a composition by Zawinul), ‘Bitches Brew’, Live-Evil, ‘Big Fun’ and ‘Directions’.
Most people, however, know Joe Zawinul from Weather Report, the mythic jazz rock group he co-founded in 1971 with another Miles alumnus, the great tenor and soprano saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Cannonball Adderley, Zawinul’s employer at that time, had tears in his eyes when he heard him announcing his departure to form his own group.
The different line ups of Weather Report that lasted for 15 years, featured such great artists as Miroslav Vitous, Airto Moreira, Dom Um Romao, Alphonso Johnson, Leon Ndugu Chancler, Jaco Pastorius, Tony Williams, Alex AcuDa, Narada Michael Walden, Chester Thompson, Manolo Badrena, Peter Erskine, Omar Hakim, Victor Bailey, Mino Cinelu and even Carlos Santana, all of them having experienced Zawinul as the establisher of a complete new vocabulary of compositional devices in jazz history.
On his newest CD, "Faces & Places" (ESC Records) featuring a huge variety of top quality musicians such as Alex AcuDa, Manolo Badrena, Victor Bailey, Richard Bona, Dean Brown, Paco Sery, Etienne Mbappe, Amit Chatterjee, Maria Joao and Sabine Kabongo, Zawinul again leads us into his enigmatic universe, where Eastern European folk music forms the cement between ethnical sounds from everywhere in the world spanning several decennia and elements of traditional swing jazz, as well as of funk and other danceable music from a much nearer past. The result is an undescribable atmosphere that reaches the listener under the form of some sort of flash from outer space as can be experienced at every concert of the Zawinul Syndicate-generated by the sparkling guitar solo’s and lyrical voice of Amit Chatterjee, the dynamic percussion of Manolo Badrena and the heavenly beautiful and powerful vocals of Sabine Kabongo, all wrapped in the thousand different sounds beaming out of Zawinul’s keaboards.
After his gig in Brussels, Joe Zawinul explained his enthusiasm about his brand new rhythm section.
Joe Zawinul: "It was by accident that I got in touch with Linley Marthe. Normally, Guy Akwa Nsangué, a bassist from Cameroon, should have accompanied us on this tour, but when he noticed that it would also lead us to destinations like Russia and Ucraine, he realized that he had no visa for these countries, which forced me to look for yet another bass player less than two weeks before our departure! And all that because of Etienne Mbappe, who in January, at the end of our tour in America, suddenly pretended he didn’t know we had planned this European tour! Unfortunately for him, Linley Marthe happens to be a better musician. Etienne is a master player, but only when he wants to and I can’t afford to play with musicians I can’t rely on."
JazzReview: "Sounds a bit like Paco, according to what Victor Bailey sings about him on his latest CD."
Joe Zawinul: "With Paco, it’s even worse."
JazzReview: Marc, how does it feel like to play drums with the legendary Joe Zawinul?"
Marc Gilmore: "The experience of a life time. No doubt about it!"
Joe Zawinul: "We have only been playing together for four days now and I can already assure you that Marc Gilmore is an extremely talented drummer, who adds a complete new touch to my music. You should hear us constantly creating new stuff during the soundchecks! You can’t imagine how lucky I feel that I found these guys!"
JazzReview: Will there be any newly recorded live material available soon?"
Joe Zawinul: "At the end of April, we start recording at the Galaxy Studios in Mol (Belgium), which should result in a DVD containing live material of our recent shows."
JazzReview: Tell us something about your new band in Austria."
Joe Zawinul: "That is really something unbelievable! Otto Lechner, the blind accordion player of the band, is a real genius. The violin is played by Joanna Lewis from Adelaide (Australia) and the drums by Herbert Reisinger. Carl Ritter plays dobro guitar in the band and there’s also a Moroccan singer named Ray. Since more than twenty years, these cats have developed an unbeatable jam culture. They never prepare anything of what they’re going to play. You should hear them! You wouldn’t believe your ears. That’s the new Austrian underground jazz scene and I’m very happy to be part of it."
JazzReview: During the concert in Brussels, Joe Zawinul, while introducing the musicians, placed singer Sabine Kabongo among the five best vocalists in the world.
JazzReview: Sabine, how did you get in touch with Zawinul?"
Sabine Kabongo: "When I joined percussionist Trilok Gurtu’s quartet, together with bassist Nicolas Fiszman, I was introduced to guitarist Amit Chatterjee, who also played sitar in that band. One day, Amit had to replace somebody in the Zawinul Syndicate. He told Joe about me and shortly after that, I was called to join the Syndicate in the recording studio for their newest CD ‘Faces & Places.’ Joe must have been impressed because he immediately wanted me to tour with him."
JazzReview: Do you have any artistic freedom in Zawinul’s band?"
Sabine Kabongo: "Definitely! The very first day that I accompanied the band, Joe already wanted me to sing. I was scared like hell because I had never improvised in my life! But it worked and I’m so happy now to be part of the family.
There’s some strange kind of chemistry going on between Joe and the members of his band, everytime we play. He’s got everything well under control and through his looks he speechlessly communicates with all his musicians at the same time, in order to get the best out of them. Meanwhile, he let’s us express ourselves as freely as possible. The Zawinul Syndicate is the best school you can imagine as a musician. The way he lets us share all his knowledge and life time experience, is really amazing. Can you imagine, he even teaches me things about African music I’ve never heard of! I consider this opportunity to be part of the Zawinul family as a gift from heaven!"
The album "Faces and Places" has recently been nominated for an Amadeus Award in Austria. For information on the Galaxy Studios and Galaxy Reference Mastering go to the link below.