Vienna Nights: Live at Joe Zawinul's Birdland

The Zawinul Syndicate / Joe Zawinul

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Vienna Nights: Live at Joe Zawinul's Birdland Review

by Jonathan Widran

Considering the stunning array of jazz fusion talent that legendary composer and keyboardist Joe Zawinul has employed as leader of the pioneering Weather Report and his ever-evolving Zawinul Syndicate, our expectations should be raised when he says of his current multi-national lineup, "It's the best band I've ever had." Recorded at his Birdland Club in his hometown of Vienna over two engagements in 2003, this explosive, multi-faceted disc is a wonderful showcase for the largely African-leaning sounds of the current Syndicate. The most fascinating aspect of Zawinul over his decades in the spotlight has been his desire to play it cool in the shadows as he showcases brilliant young talent; he does this immediately here, as African vocal pop star Salif Keita shines on the rumbling, heavy grooving "Y'elena" (which Zawinul originally produced in 1991) and which features an irrepressible groove by drummer Nathaniel Townsley and Linley Marthe, a native of Mauritius who is the latest of the leader's post-Jaco Pastorius bass discoveries. The African express continues on the bubbly "Two Lines," which blends the exotic drumming of Algerian native Karim Ziad and frenetic soloing by the familiar electric guitar genius Scott Henderson. The joyful moodswinging spirit of the rest of the set is summed up in wacky, locomotive jams like "Rooftops of Vienna" contrasted by more mystical, rhythmically varied excursions like "Do You Want Some Tea, Grandpa?" and "Café Andalusia." Zawinul eventually takes more of a spotlight on the Argentine-flavored "Borges Buenos Aires," and pays homage to his jazz roots on a dreamy, impressionistic Ellington classic, "Come Sunday." Zawinul fans will eat this dual set up instantly, but lovers of fusion and world music will come around quickly thereafter.

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