Billed as Joe Zawinul's First Symphony, this large-scale classical work may seem like a radical departure to the composer/keyboardist's jazz and pop fans, but it is really a logical expression of Zawinul's indestructible European roots. Moreover, it is not as alien to his jazz work as one might suppose; at times, one can hear trademark Zawinul ostinato lines in fleshed-out, orchestrated form, and rhythms and tunes of his jazz-rock days ("Doctor Honoris Causa," "Pharoah's Dance" "Unknown Soldier") turn up like old friends crashing a black-tie ceremony. The storyline of the work is a spinoff of Smetana's "The Moldau," tracing the path of a river from its springhead through Central Europe and the deep historical currents (the Ottoman Empire, Vienna's Golden Age, World War II, etc.) that its journey suggests. Zawinul's own keyboards appear most noticeably in the brooding Third Worldish introductions to the fourth and seventh movements, and the Czech State Philharmonic Orchestra, Brno under Caspar Richter handles the long symphonic writing smoothly. At 63 minutes, this piece is a real stretch -- Zawinul is dealing with a Brucknerian timespan -- and skillful orchestrator, composer and boundless eclectic that he is, he can't quite fill the huge tapestry consistently. Yet repeated listening reveals a coherent if loose overall structure and some emotional depth; if you work at it, the rewards will come.
Zawinul: Stories of the Danube Review
by Richard S. Ginell
|The Stories of the Danube|