The aptly-titled '75th' stands as a fitting tribute to one of the all-time greats in the history of jazz, and certainly the most influential European jazz musician since Django Reinhardt. It captures the Syndicate in rare form, ripping it up with unparalleled power and precision on a host of Zawinul originals dating back to his early Weather Report days, and with the maestro himself firmly at the helm, orchestrating from behind his bank of keyboards as only he could.
As an added treat, this collection contains a rare and beautiful moment from an August 2 concert in Veszprem, Hungary - the second to last show Joe ever played - in which he is joined on stage for an emotional reunion with his musical partner and Weather Report co-founder Wayne Shorter for a moving soprano sax-synth duet on Zawinul's anthemic "In A Silent Way," a piece the two recorded together on Miles Davis's landmark 1969 recording of the same name. Their telepathic exchanges and empathetic playing together over the course of 14 minutes here is pure magic.
Joe Zawinul - (keyboards, vocoder), Wayne Shorter - (soprano saxophone - CD2, track 5), Sabine Kabongo - (vocals, percussion), Alegre Correa - (guitar, vocals, berimbau), Linley Marthe - (bass), Paco Sery - (drums, kalimba, vocals), Jorge Bezerra - (percussion, vocals), Aziz Sahmaoui - (percussion, vocals)
After a wailing intro, things get into gear on an impressively propulsive Orient Express, which sets the generally upbeat mood. The oddly titled Madagascar doesn't attempt to evoke the music of that country, although it does have some engaging changes. For a more convincingly African ambience, Ivory Coast-born percussionist Paco Sery eschews his (occasionally heavy-handed) drumming in favour of a kalimba (thumb piano) on Zansa 11, conversing with and being echoed by Zawinul. Even if Zawinul's chosen synth timbres aren't always appealing, he's a noticeably democratic bandleader, preferring to spar with colleagues rather than grandstanding over them, and often just vamping, ruminating or dropping in atmospheric keyboard stabs while others take the limelight, as does funksome bassist Linley Marthe on Scarlet Woman.
To be frank, I'm not mad about his taste in voices, either - especially Moroccan Aziz Sahmaoui and Zap Mama's Sabine Kabongo - although Alegre Correa is an agreeable enough presence on his own samba Clario. There's a predictably mawkish Happy Birthday, which happily turns into a frenzied percussive breakdown. And there's a beautifully serene 14-minute duo version of In A Silent Way between Zawinul and his long-term associate Wayne Shorter on soprano sax - recorded the following month in Hungary.
It's a shame there aren't a few more reflective moments like it, which means that 75th isn't the best place to approach Zawinul's music from. This is a brave 'rage against the dying of the light', and novices are advised to first check last year's excellent Weather Report compilation Forecast: Tomorrow. --Jon Lusk
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