Bring Out the Treasures

Joe Zawinul -  75
Joe Zawinul – 75
Joe Zawinul

75 (Heads Up, 2009)

I can’t hide my admiration for the late Joe Zawinul. It’s sad when a visionary musician leaves us, but thankfully Joe Zawinul left a tremendous legacy. Heads Up International will release Zawinul’s latest recording, 75, on February 24. This double CD set was recorded live on July 7 of 2007 to celebrate Joe’s 75th birthday, at a festival in Lugano (Switzerland) a few weeks before Zawinul died.

As one would expect, on 75 Zawinul offers a tremendous display of fusion jazz combined with global beats and melodies. While other contemporary jazz musicians descended into smooth jazz hell, Zawinul continued his adventurous musical explorations until his final days. What made Zawinul stand out was his splendid ability as a keyboard virtuoso, jazz improviser and arranger, and as a masterful composer as well.

The album contains special treats, like a performance in Hungary, where Zawinul is joined by saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who was the cofounder (together with Joe Zawinul) of pioneering fusion band Weather Report. But the biggest treat of all is Zawinul’s creative synthesizer work and a spectacular rhythm section. Zawinul played some of the finest synthesizer solos in recent memory. Unlike keyboardists who are satisfied with factory preset sounds, Zawinul squeezed the juice out of his keyboards, generating new sounds, using global music vocoder effects, mastering pitch bending and sampling, creating rich layers of harmonies, and performing elaborate bass synth patterns.

Like other influential band leaders, Zawinul always surrounded himself with some of the finest musicians in the jazz and world music scene. “My dad raised the bar in the music world as a true artist to his profession,”says film producer Anthony Zawinul, Joe’s son. “He never compromised his art. You either liked it or you didn’t. One thing is for sure though, you always knew it was Joe Zawinul. As a bandleader, he was able to pull out performances from his bandmates and take them to heights they never knew existed.” For the 75 performance, Zawinul had an outstanding international line-up that included: Sabine Kabongo (from Zap Mama) on vocals and percussion; Alegre Correa (Brazil) on guitar, vocals and berimbau; Linley Marthe (Mauritius) on bass; Paco Sery (Ivory Coast) on drums, kalimba and vocals; Jorge Bezerra (Brazil) on percussion and vocals; and Aziz Sahmaoui (Morocco) on percussion and vocals.

"For me, this recording is both sad and joyful at the same time," says Anthony Zawinul. "He was so full of life, so full of amazing musical ideas. He knew his illness was terminal, so maybe all the creative channels were open and operating at full capacity, and he was just expressing what he felt by doing what he did best, playing and improvising. I look at the recording as a kind of extension to what he was feeling in those last weeks and months."

Joe Zawinul spent many days of his life touring and I suspect that more of his live performances were recorded in various jazz festivals throughout the world. Presumably, there are also unreleased studio recordings and mixes as well, waiting to be released. All I can say, is please bring the rest of the Zawinul treasures out.

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