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Joe Zawinul and the Zawinul Syndicate: World Tour

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Joe Zawinul claims this is the best band he's assembled since Weather Report, and it's hard to argue the point. This iteration of the Zawinul Syndicate is an extremely captivating live band. I saw them perform last summer, and no exaggeration, it was one of the best concerts I've ever attended. World Tour is an incendiary two-disc recording culled from three gigs the Syndicate performed in Germany during 1997.

One of the founding fathers of electric jazz, Vienna native Zawinul is still one of our premier electric keyoard players in any genre. Aside from his 1995 symphony Stories of the Danube, Zawinul has concentrated on world music here in the '90s. To me, World Tour is the culmination of his recent efforts. It's a percussion extravaganza, and my favorite Syndicate album since Black Water.

The vast majority of synth-based bands sound cold and futuristic, but Zawinul makes his synthesizers breathe and sing. He augments his spiraling melodies with vocoder, live multilingual vocals, recorded spoken snippets, guitar, bass and a crack rhythm section. The result is groove-oriented electronic music that sounds more human than extraterrestrial.

To play true world music you need to assemble musicians from around the world, and Zawinul has enlisted some of the finest young players from Africa, South America and the U.S. Drummer and vocalist Paco Sery of the Ivory Coast is a sensational talent, and Weather Report veterans Victor Bailey (bass) and Manolo Badrena team with him to form a truly electrifying rhythm section. Talented Cameroonian bassist Richard Bona replaces Bailey on three tracks, including the all-too-brief "Bona Fortuna."

Some of the cuts here are a bit too long and a few might have benefited from a saxophonist, but these are petty gripes. All in all, World Tour crackles with fascinating musical ideas and uplifting polyrhythms. The Zawinul Syndicate is perfect for these times: the leader cooks up a hot multicultural stew without watering down the ingredients. Only Paul Simon has been this successful combining musical forms from various continents.

Record Label: Zebra Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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