Archive for August, 2005

Dom Um Romão Dies at Age 79

Sunday, August 28th, 2005

Dom Um Romão, photo by Martin Cohen, www.congahead.com

Photo: Martin Cohen
www.congahead.com

Brazilian drummer and percussionist Dom Um Romão died July 26 in Rio De Janeiro of a cerebral hemmorage. He was 79.

Romão was Weather Report’s first touring percussionist, getting the gig in 1971 on the recommendation of Airto Moreira, who recorded on the band’s self-titled debut album. Shortly after that album was recorded, the band toured Europe and Zawinul had hoped to get Airto for the tour. But he declined Zawinul’s invitation, having already committed himself to Miles Davis. Instead, Airto recommended Romão. In Brian Glasser’s Zawinul biography, In A Silent Way, Airto explained, “Flora [Purim, Airto’s wife and Romão’s wife before that] and I called Dom Um Romão in Miami, who’d played in Brazil ’66, and asked him whether he wanted to play with the group. He said, ‘Well…yeah.’ He drove from Miami to New York, and I gave him part of my percussion to let him do the gig. He rehearsed and they liked it, and took him to Europe on the first Weather Report tour with my percussion, because he was a drummer then. I mean he could play percussion, but he didn’t have the stuff–it was still in Brazil.”

It was Airto’s way of returning a favor. “Joe Zawinul asked me if I knew a percussionist who could play in roughly the same style as me,” he said in a 1999 Jazzwise interview, “so I told them about Dom Um Romão and Joe said ‘OK we want him if you recommend him’. So in a way I paid him back for being such an inspiration to me earlier in my career. I paid him back for those licks I learned from him back in Rio.”

Romão stayed with Weather Report for three years, recording I Sing the Body Electric, Sweetnighter, and Mysterious Traveller. In addition to his sizable contributions to those albums, his solos during Weather Report’s live shows are still remembered by those who saw them. “I wasn’t given any instructions,” Romão recalled to Glasser. “Zawinul often used to tell people what to do, but never me. I didn’t tell him how to play piano either! I’d just listen, then fit in. We did lots of rehearsing–everyone wanted it to be as good as possible.”

Zawinul to Perform with the WDR Big Band

Sunday, August 28th, 2005

The WDR Big Band will revisit the music of Weather Report this fall–only this time Zawinul will man the keyboards. You may recall that the band honored Zawinul at the January 2002 International Association of Jazz Educators Conference, performing several of Zawinul’s Weather Report compositions arranged by Vince Mendoza, with Scott Kinsey on keyboards and Weather Report alumni Peter Erskine, Victor Bailey and Alex Acuña holding down the rhythm section. They reprised their performance later that year for Zawinul’s 70th birthday gala at the Leverkusener Jazz Festival. Portions of that performance are supposed to come out as Midnight Jam on ESC Records, but that release has fallen victim to indefinite delays. A DVD of this concert was also in the works, but it seems to have suffered the same fate as the CD. [As of January 2007, neither of these have ever been released.]

The new concerts again feature arrangements by Vince Mendoza, with the WDR Big Band augmented by Zawinul, Victor Bailey, Nathaniel Townsley and Alex Acuña. In addition to a week-long stand at Zawinul’s Birdland in Vienna, the band will again perform at Leverkusener. See the Tour Dates page for the performance schedule.

Mysterious Voyages–A Tribute to Weather Report

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2005

I picked up this double CD recently and I’m really enjoying it. Put out by ESC Records, Mysterious Voyages is a compilation of 24 tracks by various contemporary artists and groups, including a mix of interpretations of Weather Report compositions, as well as entirely new composition inspired by Weather Report’s music. I think most of the tracks for this album were culled from previously released material by the artists. I recognize the Tribal Tech and Gary Willis tunes, as well “Teen Town” by Marcus Miller and a few others. But the bulk of this album was new to me, and it is refreshing to hear that the legacy of Weather Report and quality fusion (for lack of a better word) carries on.

To a certain extent, the covers of original Weather Report tunes suffer due to the inevitable comparison to the originals. And let’s face it, the originals are pretty hard to beat. However, special props to guitarist John McLean for an absolutely beautiful rendition of Jaco’s “Three Views of a Secret” on acoustic guitar. And then there’s Acoustic Mania’s version of “Birdland”–played entirely on two guitars. Wild.

But to me, where this collection really shines is in the original tunes that are in one way or another inspired by Weather Report’s music. The first track, Scott Kinsey’s “Big Rock,” is previously unreleased and has a Zawinul-eque vibe to it. Hopefully it is a taste of things to come from Scott’s anticipated solo album. (By the way, Scott is slated for a European tour in February, joined by Scott Henderson, Matthew Garrison, and Gary Novak.)

Other highlights for me include Michiel Borstlap and Yuri Honing’s “Memory of Enchantment,” Trinity’s “Weather is Changing,” Kai Eckhardt’s “Queen of Cups,” “White House” by Bombay (Borstlap and Honing again), and Slop Shop’s “Overlook Hotel.” In fact, I’ve been hunting high and low to buy more stuff by Slop Shop leader J. Peter Schwalm. And that’s the best part about this album: I’ve become aware of a number of artists I had either never heard of, or whose work I hadn’t heard. I’ll be checking them out, and fans of Zawinul and Jaco will want to do the same.

AllAboutJazz.com has also posted a review of Mysterious Voyages.

Vienna Nights US Release is This Week, Followed by US Tour

Sunday, August 21st, 2005

Vienna Nights CoverZawinul’s latest CD, the two-disc set Vienna Nights, is due for release here in the states this week. It’s been available in Europe since June. Even better, in September Joe will be playing a number of concerts here in North America. Those are few and far between these days, as most of Zawinul’s performances are in Europe. See the Tour Dates page for the itinerary. Below is the press release for the Vienna Nights US release.

Recorded at his own club (Birdland) in his hometown (Vienna, Austria) on his own label (BIRDJAM / BHM Productions), Vienna Nights is a musical celebration of one of the living legends of jazz who, at age 72, is still very much on top of his game. Indeed, Joe Zawinul hasn’t lost a step, as evidenced by his typically torrid solos, razor-sharp attack and grand orchestral keyboard arrangements throughout this exhilarating live two-CD set, which documents the current edition of his Zawinul Syndicate in full stride and showcases the master at the helm of his most powerful band since Jaco-era Weather Report. “It’s the best band I’ve ever had,” says the proud patriarch of his multi-national juggernaut. “From a groove standpoint, it’s just unreal, man. And when we get out and tour, we’re going to shock people because the record is very, very good but we’ve even taken it up a notch or two since then.”

The energy level is bristling and visceral throughout Vienna Nights, which was recorded in two separate weeklong engagements at Zawinul’s Birdland club in May and September of 2004. “It was fun to play with these guys,” says Joe. “They are talented young musicians and we have much fun doing what we are doing on this record.”

On CD 1, Zawinul’s Syndicate comes out of the gate charging hard on the energized opener, a buoyantly surging rendition of Salif Keita’s “Y’elena” (from the African pop star’s 1991 recording Amen, which Zawinul produced). Belgian-African vocalist Sabine Kabongo (formerly of Zap Mama) contributes the stirring vocals on top of a slamming groove laid down by drummer Nathaniel Townsley and electric bass virtuoso Linley Marthe, a remarkable new Zawinul discovery who hails from Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa near Madagascar. “Sabine is a unique vocalist,” says maestro Zawinul. “Nobody can do what she’s doing the way that she’s doing it. And Linley, I think, is going to be the top bass player. I think he already is but people don’t know it yet. He’s amazing. He’s really got it, man.”

Guitar great Scott Henderson, a former Zawinul Syndicate member from the late ’80s, appears as special guest on the kinetic “Two Lines” (from Weather Report’s 1983 album Procession), which is fueled by Algerian drummer Karim Ziad. Zawinul, who leads the pack with vocoder-inflected vocals over this throbbing swing groove, says of Henderson’s fiery solo here: “Scott is one of my favorite solo guitar players, and he plays one of the world class jazz solos on this tune. The combination of what we do between my comping and his soloing is fantastic. It’s a very unique call-and-response kind of thing.” Zawinul follows Henderson’s pyrotechnic solo with an outstanding solo of his own. Says Henderson of the hookup with his former employer: “Joe’s regular guitar player (Amit Chatterjee) couldn’t make the gig at Hollywood Bowl last summer so Joe called me at the last minute and I did the show. Then he asked me to do a week at Birdland in Vienna and a week at the Blue Note in Milan. It was a lot of fun listening to Joe play his ass off every night and I think he sounds better than ever.”

On Tuncboyaciyan’s poignant ballad “Do You Want Some Tea, Grandpa?,” Zawinul affects an accordion sound for his solo voice while accompanying Arto’s heartfelt vocals with orchestral synth accompaniment and adding some vocoder vocals of his own. Ziad’s compelling “Chabiba” features some powerful vocals by Moroccan percussionist Aziz Sahmaoui and is solidly grounded by Ziad’s backbeat, Marthe’s heavy bass groove and Alegre CorrĂȘa’s rhythm guitar work. Zawinul’s “Blue Sound/Note 3″ segues from an adventurous synth improvisation to a wistful ballad carried by Kabongo’s operatic vocals. Henderson returns to unleash some fretboard fury on an exhilarating rendition of Zawinul’s “Rooftops of Vienna” (from 2002’s Faces & Places). Zawinul also contributes vocoder vocals on this surging uptempo groover, fueled by Harlem-born drummer Townsley and bassist Marthe, while alternating his lead synth tones from grungy electric guitar to warm-toned accordion.

“Louange” is Ziad’s Gnawan flavored jam, complete with gimbre (an Algerian stringed instrument) upfront and vocals by Sahmaoui, while the explosive closer “East 12th Street Band” (from Faces & Places) flows with a swing groove that never lets up from start to finish. Syndicate guitarist Amit Chatterjee takes a ripping solo here.

On CD 2, Zawinul’s expansive pan-global vision is realized by tunes from 2002’s Faces & Places like “Cafe Andalusia,” named for a favorite Tunisian emporium of water pipes and mint tea, the Argentine-flavored “Borges Buenos Aires” and the powerfully percussive “Tower of Silence,” about an awesome structure in Bombay, India. Zawinul’s churchy organ tones on “Intro To A Mighty Theme” (from 1996’s My People) segues into a hauntingly beautiful duet between Joe and Sabine on Ellington’s profoundly spiritual ballad “Come Sunday.” Then on the relaxed swinger “Three Postcards” (from 1998’s World Tour), Zawinul dials up an accordion mode on his synth and wails with the virtuosic dexterity of a Richard Galliano. CD 2 closes with a medley of two classic Weather Report tunes from 30 years ago or more — “Badia” (from 1975’s Tale Spinnin’) and the anthemic “Boogie Woogie Waltz” (from 1973’s Sweetnighter), both featuring screaming wang bar inflected solos from guitarist Henderson and grounded by the intensely grooving rhythm tandem of Townsley and Marthe. On these and other tunes throughout this sizzling two-CD set, Zawinul rises to the occasion with some of his most dynamic playing in recent times. “I am really in great shape,” says the 72-year-old maestro. “I’ve always felt good but I feel even better now. I do sit-ups every day and I’ve been boxing quite a lot, training on the speed bag, shadow boxing and sparring. I’m also out there splitting wood with an axe. What can I say? I’m old school, man.

“This record is very nice because the groove, the rotation among the players is so enormous. It moves more than ever before and I can really get into this. In the past I’ve often had to be a part of making the rhythm happen. There were times in the past if I stopped for four bars you could really feel a drop in the energy. And that cannot be. But these guys, man…they’re rotating and marching and are slick with it. And because the groove is so solid I can be much more spacious in my way of expressing myself.”

Understandably proud of his current edition of 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 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.”

Stay tuned for upcoming Zawinul Syndicate tours this summer in Europe and autumn in the States. Until then, feel the heat of Joe’s most scintillating outfit to date on the live Vienna Nights.