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Joe Zawinul - Brown Street

By Wayne Shorter

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Composed by Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul. Recording mediums. 2 CDs. Duration 124' 42''. MDS (Music Distribution Services) #INT 34502. Published by MDS (Music Distribution Services) (M7.INT-34502).

Item Number: M7.INT-34502

MORE THAN SPECIALIn his 74th year, renowned keyboardist, prolific composer and venerable bandleader Joe Zawinul shows no signs of slowing down. A living legend whose most popular tunes - 'Mercy Mercy Mercy' with the Cannonball Adderley quintet, 'In A Silent Way' with Miles Davis, 'Birdland' with Weather Report - have been covered numerous times by a wide variety of artists from the pop and jazz worlds, Zawinul's music has indeed stood the test of time. The Austrian-born maestro continues to tour the world with his pan-global juggernaut, the Zawinul Syndicate, which will be celebrating its 20th year in 2007. Meanwhile, he has realized a major triumph with Brown Street, his majestic collaboration with the 15-piece WDR Big Band Koln on Joe's own Birdjam label. Recorded live on October 26, 2005 at Joe Zawinul's Birdland club in Vienna, this powerhouse project showcases Zawinul along with current Syndicate drummer Nathaniel Townsley, former Weather Report and Syndicate bassist Victor Bailey and former Weather Report drummer Alex Acuna on percussion in expanded, orchestral renditions of vintage Weather Report tunes and Zawinul compositions like 'Black Market', 'A Remark You Made', 'Night Passage' and 'Boogie Woogie Waltz.' All the music on this ambitious collaboration was adapted and arranged by Vince Mendoza, with the exception of 'Procession,' which was arranged by Joe himself. (Mendoza had previously worked up big band renditions of vintage Brecker Brothers material from the '70s in their live encounter with the WDR Big Band Koln, released in 2005 as Randy Brecker's Some Skunk Funk).Says the keyboard virtuoso, 'We had fun on this project. It's basically the original Weather Report arrangements adapted to big band, and I made sure to keep it open enough so that that music could breathe but at the same time groove. The idea was to not do a cover record. We wanted these arrangements to stand on their own and have their own unique identity.'Zawinul explained that he had worked with the WDR Big Band on one previous occasion. 'We did a production over there in Koln in the late '80s. Again, it was all my music and it was a very successful collaboration. And then a couple of years ago Joachim Becker came up with the idea to maybe bring the WDR Big Band into my club to play this music and then do a little tour of Europe. And that's what we did last October.'Zawinul rehearsed with the WDR Big Band for four days leading up to that first gig at Joe Zawinul's Birdland club, tweaking the arrangments to maximize the groove and swing factor in the ensemble. 'For me, groove is the number one thing,' says Joe. 'Without that, I'm not gonna play. And so I rehearsed the band in sections. I started with the saxophones, then the next day I did brass, then the next day we did it all together with the rhythm section. And these rehearsals were not very long, maybe two or three hours each day. Sometimes I even cut the rehearsal short because I didn't want anybody to get too academic on this whole thing. I wanted to keep it a little loose and have the band just roll with the music. 'They are a very good band,' adds Joe. 'They've been together for 30 years and there probably is not another band in the world as tight as this band can be. But this music is a little different. Some of the parts are extremely difficult, like on 'Fast City'. So I rehearsed with them a little hard, but all of sudden, they started getting the groove and started being happy about it and enjoying it. I think we did a good job. It was all done in my club. And I'm very happy with this record, I'll tell you that.'Zawinul adds that he was impressed with several of the soloists from the ensemble. 'Karolina Strassmayer really surprised me,' he says of the WDR alto saxophonist. 'Here's a young Austrian woman who can really play! She's been doing a lot of things on the New York scene and she sounded great here (on 'Black Market', 'March of the Lost Children' and 'Procession'). And then this young kid Paul Heller, who plays that long (tenor sax) solo on 'Fast City.' He's a killer, man! And then there's John Marshall, a New York trumpeter. He played nicely on 'In A Silent Way.' And also Kenny Rampton, who plays trumpet with the Mingus Orchestra in New York. We flew him in to get a little more spread on the soli, and he did a good job on 'Night Passage.' And then there was Heiner Wiberny, who played a nice soprano sax solo on 'Brown Street,' and a beautiful alto sax solo on 'A Remark You Made.''Joe also mentioned that a key figure throughout the proceedings was saxophonist Olivier Peters, who relayed signals from Zawinul to the rest of the big band during their performance at Birdland in Vienna.'We had a lot of fun during that initial phase last year, so we followed up with a big European summer tour in 2006', says Joe. 'We played festivals in France, Italy and Germany and we had a helluva good time. They all love to play this way - loose, open and grooving. They're a fine band and they've done a lot of things over the years with other artists like Take Six and X and Y. They already have a great reputation around Europe and I think their reputation is going to go up a notch now with this recording because they are playing their asses off on this one.' From his earliest days in America with Maynard Ferguson's big band (1959) and Dinah Washington (1959-1961) to his tenure in Cannonball Adderley's quintet (1961-1970) to his long run with the Grammy Award-winning Weather Report (1971-1986) and now the Zawinul Syndicate (1988-present), Joe Zawinul has imbued his playing with a remarkable depth of heart and soul. He is the composer of such timeless pieces as the popular anthem 'Mercy, Mercy, Mercy' (a Top 40 hit for Cannonball Adderley in 1966), the evocative 'In A Silent Way' (which he recorded with Miles Davis as the title track of a landmark 1969 recording) and the joyfully buoyant 'Birdland' (from Weather Report's gold-selling album from 1977, Heavy Weather). From his Weather Report days, and particularly since the formation of the Zawinul Syndicate, his writing has taken a decidedly more pronounced shift toward incorporating world music elements into his own harmonically sophisticated and rhythmically pulsating language. The result is a dynamic hybrid that speaks to a multitude of cultures with joy, honesty and intensity.Given an accordian at the age of six, Zawinul began studying classical music at the Vienna Conservatory from the age of seven. After World War II, he became interested in jazz after seeing the film Stormy Weather, starring Lena Horne and featuring Louis Armstrong. In 1952, he began working with the austrian saxophonist Hans Koller, and from 1953 to 1958 he worked with various leading Austrian musicians, as well as playing at clubs in Germany and France with his own trio. In 1959, he won a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and emigrated to America. Shortly after arriving, he joined Maynard Ferguson's big band and toured with that aggregation for four months. After working briefly with Slide Hampton, Zawinul became the accompanist to singer Dinah Washington from August 1959 to March 1961. There followed brief stints with Harry 'Sweets' Edison and singer Joe Williams before he joined the Cannonball Adderley quintet, becoming a key member of the group and remaining until the autumn of 1970. Toward the end of his tenure with Adderley, Joe also participated in four important Miles Davis albums - In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Live-Evil and Big Fun. In 1971, Zawinul formed Weather Report with Davis' former tenor saxophonist, Wayne Shorter. Over the course of the band's 15-year existence, there were several personnel changes while the direction of the group gradually shifted from provocative free improvisations to more strictly composed pieces in its middle and later periods. In it's heyday, Weather Report was regarded as the premier fusion band with a huge international following. A host of great musicians passed through its ranks, including bassists Miroslav Vitous, Alphonso Johnson, Jaco Pastorius and Victor Bailey, drummers Eric Gravatt, Ndugu Chanceler, Chester Thompson, Alex Acuna, Peter Erskine and Omar Hakim, percussionists Dom Um Romao, Manolo Badrena, Robert Thomas Jr., Jose Rossy and Mino Cinelu. Likewise, the Zawinul Syndicate has seen its share of great musicians passing through, including drummers Cornell Rochester, Rodney Holmes, Paco Sery, Nathaniel Townsley, Karim Ziad and Mike Baker; bassists Gerald Veasley, Matthew Garrison, Richard Bona, Victor Bailey, Linley Marthe and Etienne Mbappe; guitarists Scott Henderson, Randy Bernsen, Gary Poulson, Alegre Correa, Fareed Haque and Amit Chatterjee; Understandly proud of his current edition o the Zawinul Syndicate, he notes, 'We're setting some high standards because we sing, we entertain and we bring a high grade music. That was always the thing I wanted to do in my life and I learned this not just from Duke Ellington, I learned this when I was in Vienna. That was the old musician standard. You had to go out there and play faultless, first grade music and entertain people. I really believe in that, and the great masters of the jazz music like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Cannonball Adderley were into the same thing. I am totally into this, man, and it's been wonderful. I've been playing better than ever and we just continue growing. We have something now to reckon with on a serious level.' (Author: Bill Milkowski).

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