10 January 2008

Tribute to Zawinul

Joe Zawinul’s death on 11 September 2007 ended an illustrious jazz career at the highest level, including, of course, co-leadership of that quintessential fusion band of the 70s, Weather Report. Adelaide had a Weather Report retrospective called “Cucumber Slumber” in October. Canberra had its last night when Carl Morgan led a superbly capable band to perform tunes from the Weather Report and Zawinul songbook, and one original. This was hot, powerful, loud music, with the excitement we expect from Pastorius, the beauty we expect from Shorter, and the orchestral richness of Zawinul himself.

Carl Morgan (guitar) brought Steve Hunter (electric bass) and James Hauptmann (drums) from Sydney to play with him and Ben Foster (keyboards). Ben got the job at late notice and did a wonderful job on an exacting task, although he admitted he’d like a masters thesis to really get to grips with Zawinul’s complexities. He was sometimes overshadowed by an insistent (and loud) rhythm section, but did a great job. It was truly bliss at times when Zawinul’s sweet synth melodies appeared from amongst the rhythm makers. Carl himself was in great form, and I was surprisingly satisfied by role as the band’s Wayne Shorter. His collection of pedals and a guitar on the edge provided a screaming sound that went well with his ecstatic solos, funky accompaniment, and saxual melodies. Steve was a shocker! His fretted 4-string bass was a powerhouse, a machine gun fusillade of notes in the style of Jaco. Jaco’s strength was always in rhythm and melody with simple harmony. Steve played this admirably, roaming at speed over the neck, and with deceptively gentle fingerwork producing a massively hard and powerful sound. This was overwhelming playing. James held the drums side of the percussion section with an everchanging wash of rhythmic patterns and occasional solos.

The tunes were mostly well-known ones from Weather Report (Palladium, Teen town, Black market, A remark you made), but there was one original from Steve Hunter’s new CD, and that classic Zawinul number from his time with Cannonball Adderley, Mercy mercy mercy.

I had a few thoughts as the night was ending. Firstly, I realised I was tapping my feet on the 1-3, and I wondered to what degree WR tunes provoked this, and whether it’s a defining aspect of jazz-rock/fusion (it probably is). Secondly, I remembered some of the extended single chord blows that were part of Weather Report’s repertoire, and that in the end left me a bit cold. But then I heard the summary call and response in repeated whole-notes that finishes Palladium. It was a great choice to end the night; Weather Report bliss returned and I ended the night beaming. Thanks to Carl and crew for a memorable review of a great and sadly missed artist.

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