Joe Zawinul & the Zawinul Syndicate 75
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Joe Zawinul & the Zawinul Syndicate
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By July 2007 Joe Zawinul was losing his battle with cancer. Undaunted, the Austrian-born keyboardist and composer was still out on the road treating audiences to the sophisticated, brilliantly grooving jazz fusion that he helped pioneer with Weather Report and his own band the Zawinul Syndicate. Recorded live at a festival in Switzerland on Zawinul's final birthday (his 75th) before his passing on September 11, 2007, 75 is as fitting a musical epitaph as you could ask for. Kicking in with the North African-tinged "Orient Express" followed by a slinky "Madagascar," the double CD set revisits some of Weather Report's finest moments alongside similarly stellar Zawinul Syndicate material. Zawinul is firmly at the helm on keyboards and vocoder, reminding us all of how much ground he broke in making the synthesizer an instrument that could convey multiple moods even while working through all manner of rhythms (particularly evident on tracks like the kalimba/voice/keyboard sparseness of "Zanza II" and a duet with Weather Report saxophonist Wayne Shorter on "In a Silent Way"). African, Brazilian, Iberian, Caribbean, ambient and straight-ahead jazz colors figure into the proceedings and Zawinul's topflight players and singers shine in both solo and ensemble turns. If I had the time or smarts I could spew a lot more specifics about the selections and how they relate to the particulars of jazz, fusion, "world" or whatever, but thankfully Joe Zawinul was a legend whose work needs no such explanations. This album caps his life's work perfectly, and the marvelous music therein says it all. - Tom Orr

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