Recording information: Estival Jazz Lugano, Switzerland (07/07/2007/08/??/2007); Veszprem, Hungary (07/07/2007/08/??/2007).
Joe Zawinul's final edition of his Zawinul Syndicate band was a terrific ensemble that was perfect for any jazz festival. The multi-ethnic content, driving funky pulse, and Zawinul's colorful keyboard foundation kept listeners on their toes and rapt with attention. Using percussion and guitar with no other solo instruments, Zawinul was fully able to carry the proceedings with support from very talented performers who always complemented the music, but never got in the way, or dared to. This live double-CD set perfectly exemplifies Zawinul's personalized direction before he suddenly passed away, and exudes all of the energy the group produced in concert. For Weather Report fans, there are many direct or implied signposts that remind us why that band was so unique under the Austrian-born keyboardist's direction. But at the core is Zawinul's expanded sound, based in technological advances, conjuring up any number of folk based motifs from around the globe. "Orient Express" and "Madagascar" start the voyage in good form, reminiscent of Weather Report's "Black Market" phase, as electric bass guitarist Linley Marthe channels Jaco Pastorius as Mediterranean music is contemporized with an American backbeat. Late period Miles Davis simplicity is employed during "Scarlet Woman," perhaps a cousin of "Back Seat Betty" in its slow and mysterious but eventually composed strut. The mbira or thumb piano is played by Paco Serv alongside Zawinul's vocoder and synths on the sparse "Zanza II," and "Cafe Andalusia" concludes the first CD in a straight rock-funk beat with wordless vocals from the impressive Sabine Kabongo driving an unstoppable forward motion and kinetic energy. Seems like the band can't wait to dive into "Fast City/Two Lines," a speedy bullet train combo tune, fueled by the stinging Santana-like guitar of Alegre Correa, inspiring fine solos from Marthe and drummer Serv. -"Clario" is all Correa's, a spotlight on Brazilian Jobim-styled sounds, induced by his toned down guitar, ramped up scats, and yells. The Weather Report touch returns in "Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz," a seamless transition between free time and 3/4 where Zawinul's understated synth and Correa's berimbau identify the universal global village as welcome to all. Wayne Shorter joins the group for a thinly veiled version of the Miles Davis groundbreaker "In a Silent Way," reuniting the old mates in a body of improvisation featuring small, clipped notes and phrases on soprano sax, returning after a respite to briefly state the riff on which a thousand stately, elegant and wistful counter harmonies were built upon. When the Zawinul Syndicate performed, they left nothing on the stage, extracting every ounce of their souls for all to hear. The leader demanded this commitment, and when you listen closely to his layers of pure sound and merging cultures altogether wrapped up, one wishes he could have had a prominent position in the United Nations. Our world was a better place with Joe Zawinul in it. ~ Michael G. Nastos
Down Beat (p.74) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "The swing and strut of 'Madagascar' are highlighted by Marthe and drummer Paco Sery kicking and grinding to good effect."
JazzTimes (p.80) - "Zawinul played his heart out every night on his final tour. You can hear that sense of commitment and incredible soul, the uncanny melodic and harmonic invention, the inner drive and boundless spirit of the man on every one of these live tracks."
Dirty Linen (p.54) - "Joined by an international cast...Zawinul transforms the sounds of the world into his heavily improvised message."