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?
I've been a fan of Joe Zawinul for many years, like a lot of people through Weather Report, and then finding his collaborations with Miles Davis (Silent Way etc) Its always an event when Mr Zawinul issues a new release, some of them lately have been great. BUT THIS! this is wonderful. Kicking off with Brown Street that really swings, a beautiful reading of In a Silent Way, and a brilliant version of Fast City. Each track gets better and better until Carnavalito. After hearing Jaco's Big Band releases I've often wondered what a big band treatment of Joe Zawinuls music would be like. Now we know. Brilliant.
I'd been meaning to add my review of this excellent disc since buying it in Manhattan this spring, but hearing about the death of Joe Zawinul yesterday has prompted me to finally do it. I've been a fan of JZ - off and on - since first encountering Weather Report in the mid-70s, and his employment of that band as a vehicle for his compositions and arrangements led them to a level of popularity and respect that was unequalled amongst contemporary jazz groups. Following WR, his work with the Zawinul Syndicate saw him thoroughly exploring world music, with its extraordinary rhythms and syncopations. For my taste, his work there was somewhat more uneven than with WR, but the band was still terrific to see live, in which setting he'd give full rein to its incredible talent for collective improvisation.
More recently, he'd been experimenting with this big band setting of tunes from his back catalogue. I'd heard a few bootlegs of this band, but nothing prepares you for the sheer impact of this disc as the title track crashes out of your speakers and grabs you by the throat. The wider spectrum of sound offered by the big band is beautifully appropriate for this complex, layered music, since it brings brilliant new detail and nuances to both the up-tempo tunes and the ballads. For example, I've heard many, many versions of "In A Silent Way", but I think this must be the best. An appropriate ending to a long and fruitful life in music.
Reviewed 21/06/2007. Recorded during a fantastic week of music making at Joe's excellent "Birdland" in Vienna this is music at its best. It was the best music experience of my life . JZ is one of the great jazz composer's up there with Monk and Ellington. Add to the mix a great, great jazz big band, wonderful arrangements, stunning musicians including two WR greats, plus the incomparible JZ himself. Highlights for me include the heartfelt "A Remark you Made" with exquisite soloing from Joe (the spirit of Jaco was in the room),an incandescent "Fast City" with great solos from Paul Heller and JZ, and the powerful (and short) "March of the Lost Children" One major regret that "D flat waltz" didn't make it onto the CD set.....it was wild. Just how well WR material translates into big band was a revelation. There must be enough in the can for a follow-up 2 CD set. Please!!!!!
Afterword 11/09/2007 Joe died today....This CD is a fitting tribute to a great musician and a wonderful human being. RIP Joe....I wish I could hear what you are cooking up right now!!
I adore this album. The orchestrations are wonderfully rich, being at once fantastically cool and tear jerkingly beautiful. Both Miles Davis' In a Silent Way and the title track are examples of this brilliance.
It makes me cry every time I listen to it and if you're an avid music lover like me, or want to get into jazz, then this is a classy place to start!
A long time ago I bought Weather Report's Black Market out of curiosity - they were getting good reviews but no airplay so it was a shot in the dark. It was just out so it must have been 1976? I remember my first thoughts were that this was music for a big band done on the cheap. I grew out of that fairly quickly and Black Market is now a life favourite on mine, one of the great albums. But here we have Weather Repot being done by a big band, with Zawinul at the helm and I have to say that I've gone back to my original opinion, the music was supposed to sound like this. It really is jaw-droppingly good. The title number, which was a scorcher on 8:30 is incandescent here. I've listened to it god knows how many times and it still gets me dancing, the drummer just pushes and pushes and pushes, the band probably had to go and lie down in a darkened room after it, I know I sometimes do. But from this high it just gets better, the music just grows and grows, facets and angles that were glossed over on the original albums are expanded and lit in technicolour. It simply is a joyous exploration of the best of Weather Report/Zawinul in a way that shows the music in its true light. A special note for the sax player, my first thoughts were "if only...": nah, I was wrong, it wouldn't be better with Wayne Shorter, it would be different - for sure. But not better than this. Buy it, play it loud: if you play it on headphones the first time expect to make a prat of yourself.