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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Birdjam BHM 4002-2




1. Introduction To Orient Express
2. Orient Express
3. Madagascar
4. Scarlet Woman
5. Zansa II
6. Café Andalusia
1. Fast City/Two Lines
2. Clario
3. Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz
4. Happy Birthday
5. In A Silent Way
6. Hymn

Joe Zawinul - Keyboards, vocoder
Sabine Kabongo - Vocals, percussion
Alegre Correa - Guitar, vocals, berimbau
Linley Marthe - Bass
Paco Sery - Drums, kalimba, vocals
Jorge Bezerra, Aziz Sahmaoui - Percussion, vocals
Wayne Shorter - Soprano sax (track II/5)

This double CD is both a celebration and a requiem. It was Joe Zawinul's last album, recorded on his 75th birthday. Most of it comes from a concert at the Estival Jazz Lugano in Switzerland in July 2007, but Joe died two months later. I have admired much of Zawinul's work, especially with Cannonball Adderley's group and (most famously) with Weather Report, as well as such albums as 1971's Zawinul. I would like to say that this last album marks a fitting end to Zawinul's prolific career but, unfortunately, it is not as good as I had hoped.

Joe's group the Zawinul Syndicate has been going for 20 years and I have enjoyed some of its previous recordings but this album sounds, frankly, rather uncoordinated. Superficially the album might be compared with Weather Report, as it has strong keyboards and percussion underpinned by electric bass (probably the fretless variety). Yet the group contains several vocalists and percussionists, who tend to swamp most of what is going on. And, as this is a multi-ethinic group (from Mauritius to Rio via Marrakesh and the Congo), the vocals are sung in a variety of languages which will be incomprehensible to many listeners - and the album sleeve contains no helpful explanatory notes. Voices as well as guitar shriek painfully near the start of Badia.

The result is a dense morass of sound which, at times, seems more like heavy metal than jazz. Even though Zawinul's keyboards are the main solo voice, they sometimes have difficulty emerging from the welter. Joe's solos tend to be fragmentary (perhaps because of the illness he was already enduring) and there aren't many of the memorable melodies that one might expect from the composer of Birdland and Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.

Fast City/Two Lines gives the guitarist and bassist a chance to play virtuosic solos, although they are almost submerged beneath the busy percussion. Zansa II is a blessedly restrained track (for the most part) which allows Paco Sery to display his brilliance on the kalimba or thumb piano. Another quietish number is In a Silent Way, recorded in Hungary in August 2007 as a duet between Joe Zawinul and his erstwhile Weather Report colleague, Wayne Shorter. It is a thoughtful, touching performance, although melodic content is in short supply.

Elsewhere, the noisy ambience may be the fault of an echoey venue or too resonant a recording but, whatever the cause, the noise is overpowering for most of this double CD and it conceals the undoubted musicianship which is in there somewhere. I know they say "De mortuis nil nisi bonum" but honesty compels me to admit that there are many better Zawinul albums than this.

Tony Augarde




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