Joe Zawinul is one of the mercurial geniuses of 20th century music. His sonic conception is pan-continental, marrying the rhythmic complexities of Africa and South America with the European sensibility for yearning melody and the American capacity for groove and funk. In other's hands this would be an ungainly melting pot, but in Zawinul's it works quite beautifully. Weather Report (WR), which he co-founded with Wayne Shorter, was one of those bands whose seemingly effortless capability masked extraordinary complexity, talent and sophistication. Zawinul's post-Weather Report offerings, whilst usually a cut above, have also at times seemed less spacious and distinctive; excitingly rhythmic but lacking some of the richly vibrant colouration that made WR so memorably enjoyable.
Now a youthful 74, Austrian-born Zawinul and the marvellous WDR Big Band from Cologne have brought Weather Report's legacy into the 21st Century courtesy of some marvellous Vince Mendoza arrangements. If you thought that WR were just too electric to work with traditional acoustic brass, and just too tight and polyrhythmic to work with a Big Band, then Brown Street will prove you wrong. In fact the blend of brass and Zawinul's ringing synthesiser sounds is a wonderful blend, and it is often hard to hear which is which. Zawinul's chosen rhythm section of Victor Bailey, Nathaniel Townsley and Alex Acuna drive things forward at a cracking pace whilst the 14 piece WDR brass cohort bring a shouting acoustic freshness to familiar themes. The result is some marvellously fresh treatments for some long-familiar pieces including, `In A Silent Way', Jaco Pastorius's achingly gorgeous `A Remark You Made' and the grooving `Boogie Woogie Waltz'. Recorded live at "Joe Zawinul's Birdland" in Vienna in front of an appreciative audience, Brown Street is a delight that could only be bettered by the inclusion of Zawinul's trademark `Birdland', if only to put Maynard Ferguson and Buddy Rich's Big Band versions to rest. Now who said jazz was purely an American art?