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If you're looking to relax and maybe have a little background music to help you snooze, don't go near Brown Street, the new release by Austrian-born Joe Zawinul. If, on the other hand, you need a pick-me-up, this is it. Revisiting some of his past hits and backed by the WDR Big Band, Zawinul reiterates that he's an exceptional musician and songwriter.
Zawinul's career has spanned more than four decades. Among the jazz icons he has performed or recorded with are Maynard Ferguson, Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley. It was during his years with Adderley that Zawinul penned the often-covered "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, which reached the top of the Billboard pop charts in 1967.
In the 1970s he teamed with saxophonist Wayne Shorter to create Weather Report, a group that helped set the standard for fusion. Zawinul later led the Zawinul Syndicate, which recorded four Grammy-nominated albums. Zawinul has been named Best Keyboardist by Down Beat Magazine thirty times, and Weather Report was a perennial Best Band winner in Down Beat, Swing Journal and other music publications.
Recorded in Zawinul's own Birdland Club in Vienna, Brown Street features the keyboardist with Syndicate drummer Nathaniel Townsley, Weather Report and Syndicate bassist Victor Bailey, and Weather Report drummer/percussionist Alex Acuna. Joined by the WDR Big Band of Köln, Germany, this two-disc set features several expanded, orchestral renditions of ten Zawinul compositions.
Disc one opens with the high-energy title song, which features solos by Heiner Wiberny on soprano sax, Paul Shigihara on guitar and Zawinul. Allowing the listener a few minutes' respite, the band covers "In a Silent Way, which Zawinul penned for Davis with trumpeter John Marshall as the featured soloist. The band cranks it up again with the aptly titled "Fast City, featuring Marshall with Paul Heller on tenor saxophone. Bailey, Townsley and Acuna give this piece lots of sizzle with their intense rhythm. Disc one ends with "Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz, featuring Olivier Peters on soprano sax, and "Black Market, with Karolina Strassmayer on alto sax.
Strassmayer is featured again on "March of the Lost Children, which opens Disc two, and is followed by the elegant "A Remark You Made, with Wiberny on alto sax and the band's horns playing softly in the background. Kenny Rampton on flugelhorn takes point on "Night Passage, a bouncy rendition of the Weather Report groove. Townsley gives the cymbals a workout to highlight the climax of this track. The disc closes with "Procession, featuring solos by Strassmayer and Zawinul, and "Carnavalito, with solos by Wiberny and Zawinul.
The big-band arrangements for all tracks, except "Procession, are done by Vince Mendoza, who contributed to Randy Brecker's Some Skunk Funk (Telarc, 2006), one of last year's best releases. Featuring the WDR Big Band and the now-deceased Michael Brecker, that recording won a Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. With nearly ninety minutes of Zawinul at his best, Brown Street may be among 2007's best.
Track Listing: CD1: Brown Street; In a Silent Way; Fast City; Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz; Black Market. CD2: March of the Lost Children; A Remark You Made; Night Passage; Procession; Carnavalito.
Personnel: Joe Zawinul: keyboards, vocoder, arrangement (CD2#4); Alex Acuna: percussion; Victor Bailey: bass; Nathaniel Townsley: drums. The WDR Big Band Köln: Paul Shigihara: guitar; Andy Haderer: trumpet, flugelhorn; Kenny Rampton: trumpet, flugelhorn; Rob Bruynen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Klaus Osterlob: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Marshall: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ludwig Nuss: trombone; Dave Harler: trombone; Bernt Laukamp: trombone; Mattis Cederberg: bass trombone, tuba; Heiner Wiberny: alto and soprano saxophones, flute, clarinet; Karolina Strassmeyer: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; Olivier Peters: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, clarinet; Paul Heller: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, clarinet; Jens Neufang: baritone and bass saxophones, bass clarinet. Vince Mendoza: all arrangements except CD2#4.
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.