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A gift. That's perhaps the most effective description of the late Josef (Joe) Zawinul and what he has given to the world of music. So it follows that on his 75th and final birthday, one of the pioneers of jazz fusion performed the music that would become the two-disc 75, his final recording.
Zawinul was born in Austria but moved to the United States, where he played with such luminaries as Maynard Ferguson and Cannonball Adderley. It was during his time with Adderley's band that Zawinul composed the often-covered "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," a favorite among jazz and blues enthusiasts. Zawinul then spent some time with Miles Davis, an association that led to "In a Silent Way." Zawinul brought the Wurlitzer and Fender-Rhodes electric pianos into the jazz mainstream. A founding member of the fusion juggernaut Weather Report, he later created the Zawinul Syndicate.
"Orient Express" kick starts this musical adventure. After an ominous introduction, the entire ensemble sizzles, particularly bassist Linley Marthe and drummer Paco Sery. Guitarist Alegre Correa and a trio of percussionists add to the stunning level of energy presented. Zawinul shows his skills on keyboards and vocoder, but it's the overall play of the band that sets this track in motion.
"Scarlet Woman" has an easygoing groove with a touch of funk. The congas are a powerful presence. Sery scores several rapid-fire strikes on the cymbals and later delivers some hard-charging rolls on the toms. Marthe's solo brings to mind another of Zawinul's associates, the late bassist Jaco Pastorius.
"Fast City / Two Lines" opens the second disc with the same level of energy that began the first. Correa's solo is framed by the percussion, along with more of Marthe's stunning bass, the friction high during his solo later in the song. Sabine Kabongo of Zap Mama fame adds a vocal scat, in addition to her percussion play.
After being treated to a rendition of "Happy Birthday" by the band, Zawinul is joined by fellow Miles Davis band and Weather Report alum Wayne Shorter. Soprano sax and keyboard perform a duet on "In a Silent Way."
Despite poor health, Zawinul continued to perform. This 75th birthday concert was recorded at a festival in Lugano, Switzerland, on July 7, 2007, about two months before he died of cancer. That he delivered such an exceptional performance is a testament to his talent and dedication in sharing his gift.
Track Listing: CD1: Introduction to Orient Express; Orient Express; Madagascar; Scarlet Woman; Zanza II; Cafe Andalusia. CD2: Fast City / Two Lines; Clario; Badia / Boogie Woogie Waltz; Happy Birthday; In a Silent Way; Hymn.