Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Joe Zawinul and Brown Street

Brown Street

Joe Zawinul

BirdJAM/WDR. 2007

reviewed by Pedro Blas Gonzalez

Recently, as I was about to step out of my car at the university, a woman who had just parked next to me asked, “what is that beautiful music that you were just playing?” The piece was a live recording of Weather Report’s now classic melody, “A Remark you Made” in Joe Zawinul’s new recording, Brown Street.

Weather Report is considered one of the most sophisticated and musically proficient fusion-jazz groups of the 1970s and 80s. It is certainly the most prolific, having recorded over 16 albums. The group was together from 1970 to 1986. In that time span it counted with the participation of over 26 musicians, most whom have gone on to enjoy stellar solo careers.

Weather Report was the brainchild of pianist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Zawinul had recently departed Cannonball Adderley’s outfit and Shorter The Miles Davis Group. Throughout the many embodiments of Weather Report, perhaps the most memorable core of the group was that of Zawinul, Shorter, Alex Acuña and Jaco Pastorius.

Zawinul’s Brown Street was recorded live at Birdland, Zawinul’s own jazz club in Vienna. Zawinul is re-united with one-time Weather Report percussionist, Alex Acuña and the WDR Big Band. “Brown Street,” the title piece, is a 10:58 jam that makes use of ethnic layering and the rhythmic, full, horn sound of the WDR Big Band.

Distinctive in this piece is the growling bass playing of reknowned bassist Victor Bailey, also a member of Weather Report from 1983 to 1986. Bailey does great justice in delivering the same virtuoso bass lines that seasoned Weather Report enthusiasts associate with Jaco Pastorius. This piece begins with Zawinul’s synthesizer rendition of an accordion and builds to the up-tempo jazz fusion for which Zawinul’s music is known.

“In a Silent Way,” one of Zawinul’s composition’s that has been recorded by Miles Davis, employs solo trumpet, in what is an impressionistic rendition of Zawinul’s memories of his youth in Austria.

“Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz” is yet another fine example of Zawinul’s ability to integrate the synthesizer in orchestrations that include percussion in addition to drums and a large horn section. Yet Zawinul’s musicianship keeps him from drowning out the rest of the musicians in what is often a very busy sound.

“Badia” is a classic appropriation of Zawinul’s fusion-jazz –- a moniker that he does not approve of, and which he credits to the music writers -- upbeat drumming, flowing and melodic synthesizer and the ever-present probing and growling sound of fretless bass.

“Black Market” makes use of a more restrained and rhythm-oriented bass line that sustains the energy of the horn section and solo saxophone. “Night Passage” is a traditional swing score that opens with trumpet solo and progresses into big band orchestration and time sequences, and which utilizes a minimal touch of synthesizer throughout.

“Carnavalito” begins with Acuña’s Cuban Guaguancό percussion that launches the piece into a funky-jazz jam that also makes use of Samba rhythms. This often synchronistic integration of diverse rhythms and tempos is a staple of Zawinul’s music. But also essential to his compositions is his weaving of surface melodies that serve as counterpoint to the heavier elements of his fusion driven pieces.

Pedro Blas Gonzalez is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Barry University in Miami, Florida. Amongst his intellectual pursuits is his interest in the relationship that exists between subjectivity, self-autonomy and philosophy.

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