The first CD, 'The Rise...' mixes a traditional jazz quintet with an unusual string section; 3 violas and a cello. Whilst it provides quite a nice effect, i don't believe that Joe has really pushed back the boundaries of jazz that far. For instance, on the first track, 'Baptismal', the strings start off with a slowish moving theme, which the wind gradually play over. Then they (the strings) cut out for the jazz band proper to play the main tune, and solo. Then the strings come back at the end, and virtually repeat the opening section. This ABA form piece is not hard to listen to, and the strings are a welcome addition, with more of a soloists role than orchestral instruments have usually been given in jazz. (like the strings in 'What A Wonderful World' by Satchmo) The second CD sees the strings depart to be replaced with extra winds. This is more traditional, Money in the Pocket a prime example. Head-Solo-Solo-Solo-Head: it's a well used formula, and unfortuneately this doesn't work in the performers favour, especially with uninventive solos. Don't get me wrong, they all play well, and musically, it's just that for a package that's supposed to be 'Contemporary', not a lot new is being done.
Coming from 1966/67 these two albums represent Joe Zawinul’s attempt at showing the diversity of his musical interests and capabilities. From gospel, to funky bluesy soul, classically inflected jazz (involving a string section) to more conventional sounding Bop, it is a dizzying array of styles, but they hang together beautifully. I am not sure why so many reviewers are so lukewarm about both these sets. The playing by all concerned is inventive and lively. The tunes are melodic and well –constructed, more than genre pieces they certainly hold the attention and delight with their crafted arrangements. Have a listen to the beautiful piano playing on ‘Sharon’s Waltz’, the gospel righteous of ‘Lord, Lord, Lord’ and the sonorous ‘Baptismal’. If these give pleasure, make this album your next purchase.
This twofer set should be considered great value for money – some superior music making, interesting sleeve notes and fifteen tracks of likable jazz. My only minor groan is that the recorded sound is just a tad boxy but the ears quickly adjust. If you are looking for the JZ, of Weather Report mode he has yet to appear. Otherwise, enjoy! Recommended.
A younger Zawinul displays a remarkable degree of versatility in this pairing of underrated gems; drawing as he does on all the traditions of jazz whilst hinting every so often at the highly personalised take on music generally that would rank him alongside the greats in decades to come. Don't expect seeds of Weather Report so much as a sampling of the soil in which they were to take such fertile root.