75 (Heads Up)

Joe Zawinul & The Zawinul Syndicate

By Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

Joe Zawinul was a profoundly influential musician and composer. After making his mark with Cannonball Adderley on such soul jazz classics as "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," he went on to help change the face of jazz with Miles Davis on such seminal recordings as In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. He then co-founded Weather Report with fellow Davis alumnus Wayne Shorter.

Shortly after his passing in 2007, Brown Street — a two-CD set recorded live in October 2005 at his own Birdland Club in Vienna — was released. It combined his electric jazz band with the 15-piece WDR Big Band for a reinterpretation of many of his classic Weather Report pieces. Now, 75 has just been released. Recorded live on his 75th birthday (July 7, 2007) in Lugano, Switzerland, it complements Brown Street by documenting Zawinul's working band with no frills.

The two-disc set opens with a richly textured "Introduction to Orient Express," replete with haunting synthesizer sounds and gentle percussion, followed by "Orient Express," which picks up the tempo and shows that even two months before his death, Zawinul played with verve and imagination.

Other songs from the Weather Report canon are given an update here, including the fast shuffling funk take on "Madagascar" and the elegant unfurling of "Scarlet Woman" on the first disc.

Several of the musicians are from different countries in Africa, and the African influence is clear on "Zanza II," with its kalimba and hand percussion on the first CD. The second disc opens with a medley of Weather Report's "Fast City" and "Two Lines." "Clario" revisits the African sensibility, before a blistering medley of Weather Report's "Badia" and "Boogie Woogie Waltz."

The band sings "Happy Birthday," and the concert closes with a gently chanted "Hymn." Between these two pieces is a gorgeous rendition of "In a Silent Way," recorded live a month later with only Shorter. In my opinion, it would have worked better as a "bonus track" at the end, rather than being slipped into the concert sequence. Nonetheless, it is gorgeous and moving. This set is a wonderful tribute to Zawinul.

Find out more at www.zawinulmusic.com.