The Zawinul Syndicate has embarked on its summer tour, starting with four festival performances in North America, and then it’s off to Europe for the month of July. Former Syndicate drummer Nathaniel Townsley is back for the North American performances, with Stéphane Galland set to take over in Europe. (Townsley will tour with Richard Bona this summer.) Galland will make at least the fourth drummer since January. Roger Biwandu was a last-minute sub for Paco Sery at the January concerts in Los Angeles and New York, and Marque Gilmore toured with Zawinul this past spring.
Galland is a highly sought after drummer in Belgium, and is a member of the bands Aka Moon and Greetings From Mercury. In reviewing Aka Moon’s album Aka Moon Guitars, Phil DiPietro of All About Jazz wrote of Galland: “The heavy hitting, polyrhythmic playing of Coleman’s Gene Lake and Gilmore’s Rodney Holmes comes to mind as a point of comparison to these ears, but Galland certainly has his own thing and his own touch happening, acutely technical skin work on par with the Bozzios and Chambers’ of the world. About three minutes into [‘The Last Call From Jaco’], Galland shows he’s as familiar with the intricacies of the highest levels of progressive rock drumming as with funk-fusion and odd-time styles, which he then revisits and magnifies upon in the succeeding ‘Scofield,’ and continues into the ensuing ‘From Influence to Innocence.’ Drum-heads looking for a new fave would do well to listen to this triumvirate of tunes before continuing their search.”
It appears that Galland’s commitments with Aka Moon and Greetings From Mercury precluded him from joining the Syndicate this side of the Atlantic. In fact, Galland has an interesting double-bill on July 25 at the Blue Note Festival in Belgium, performing back-to-back on the same evening with the Zawinul Syndicate and Greetings From Mercury.
Meanwhile, reports of the Syndicate’s recent performances have come my way. Melitta Ford emailed me directly, writing: “The Zawinul Syndicate played at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom as part of the Vancouver International Jazz festival. Opening act was Lapp-Electro with Daniel Lapp from Victoria. Both concerts were awesome – but as soon as Zawinul and band hit the stage, the entire atmosphere changed. The Commodore Ballroom was charged with energy. Zawinul played with Manolo Badrena (percussion), Sabine Kabongo (vocals), Amit Chatterjee (guitar), Linley Marthe (bass) and Nathaniel Townsley (drums). Sabine’s range was phenomenal – from tribal vocal sounds to (obviously highly trained and professional) gospel voice and more. It was obvious that the band members greatly respected (if not almost ‘feared’) Zawinul. Their eyes were always fixed at the ‘master’ who orchestrated every song. It was a great concert, outstanding musicianship…definitely an experience!”
Gregory J. Robb also reviewed the concert as part of his comprehensive coverage of the festival for All About Jazz. He described the scene at the Commodore: “Voice gives song to a frenetic, African-based groove that rhythmically underpins Joe Zawinuls spaced keyboarding. The effect in The Commodore was astonishing hundreds of fans packed on the dance floor to just watch and experience the culture of a band formed from around our world.”
Not everyone left the Commodore happy. A dissenting opinion was voiced by “Alex” on the rec.bluenote.music news group. Judging by his comments, he was expecting to hear Weather Report.
Two days later, the Syndicate played the Toronto Jazz Festival, and Toronto Star music critic Geoff Chapman reviewed the concert under the title, “World Beats Joyously Plundered.” Another article about Zawinul appeared in the Vancouver Sun, publicizing his performance in Vancouver.