Yeah, I know, it’s been a while… I’m going to work my way backwards from the latest news.
First, let’s talk about the Syndicate’s recent line-up changes. The band’s most recent gig at the Hollywood Bowl on August 25 found them sporting a line-up consisting of Sabine Kabongo, bassplayer Linley Marthe, drummer Roger Biwandu, Armenian percussionist Arto Tuncboyaciyan, and… Scott Henderson(!) on guitar. That counts as a major shake-up in my book.
The first change took place before the summer European tour, when percussionist Manolo Badrena left the band, replaced by Jorge Bezerra. Badrena was the longest running member of the Syndicate, and though I have no information as to what precipitated the split, I do know that he is co-leading the group Trio Mundo with guitarist Dave Stryker. The group recently released Rides Again, its follow-up to 2002’s Carnival. On Rides Again, Badrena makes his debut on drum set, and the group has some gigs in the northeastern US this fall. Meanwhile, Nathaniel Townsley was replaced by Karim Ziad on at least some of the summer dates. Ziad has manned the Syndicate drum chair in the past. Townsley may have had prior commitments that prevented him from completing the tour, but that’s just speculation.
After the European summer concert season, the Syndicate was booked for six nights in August at the Blue Note in New York, but those gigs got canceled. However, the Syndicate headlined the August 25 concert at the Hollywood Bowl that included Michael Brecker’s and Dave Holland’s bands. And lo and behold, there was a new but familiar figure on guitar: Scott Henderson. (Check out the Scott Henderson discussion forum for photos.) He needs no introduction to long-time Zawinul fans, having performed on the albums The Immigrants (1988), Black Water (1989). (Man, has it been that long?) Since then, Henderson has lead the fusion group Tribal Tech with Gary Willis, and carved out a successful career as a blues guitarist, with several albums to his name.
So what happened to guitarist/vocalist Amit Chatterjee? Again, hard to know. Chatterjee had been a steady member of the Syndicate since 2001, and his soaring voice and rhythmic guitar playing had become a fixture. He was still with the Syndicate at the end of July. According to a message posted on the Scott Henderson Discussion Forum, purportedly from Henderson himself, Scott canceled a gig at a local club in order to perform with Zawinul that night at the Hollywood Bowl, saying, “I’m sorry but I won’t be playing at La Ve Lee tonight. Joe Zawinul needs me to play in his band at the Hollywood Bowl because his guitar player cancelled.” I don’t know if the guitar player who “canceled” was Chatterjee or someone else.
I understand that Henderson will also perform with Zawinul when the band takes up residence for the week of September 28 at Joe’s Birdland club in Vienna, as well as a six-night run the following week at the Blue Note in Milan, Italy. Beyond that, we’ll have to see. Henderson is much more of a soloist than Chatterjee was–and I don’t think he sings, either :-)–so it will be interesting to see how his presence in the band shapes the music.
Okay, lets cover a few other odds and ends. First, Joe played a few concerts this summer with vocalist Bobby McFerrin. McFerrin collaborated with Joe on his 1986 album Dialects. No word has come my way on what pieces they performed.
And finally, some months back Roger Biwandu was kind enough to send me the new CD by former Syndicate bassplayer Etienne MBappe. Misiya is an engaging album that I have enjoyed playing. It reveals that MBappe is a multifaceted musician, much in the same way that Richard Bona’s albums show off the breadth of his musicianship. Here MBappe composed 13 of the 14 tunes, plays bass and sings the lead vocals, and arranged the string sections. More information, including audio samples, can be found on alapage.com.