Monthly Archives: April 2009

Vince Mendoza and the Metropole Orchestra

Metropole Orchestra

I was browsing YouTube the other day and came across the Metropole Orchestra’s performance of “Peace,” part of a program entitled “A Tribute to Joe Zawinul,” recorded on January 26, 2008 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, under the direction of Vince Mendoza. I was bowled over by its beauty. “Peace” was the closing tune on Zawinul’s 1986 synthesizer tour-de-force, Dialects. In an interview at the time, he said he was inspired by hearing the flutist James Galway perform on television. The sound that Joe heard led him to the flute-like timbre that he used to improvise what became “Peace.” In the Mendoza and the Metropole Orchestra’s retelling of song, the lead is played by a violinist. It was a brilliant choice. The result is gorgeous, and it is well worth a listen.

In fact, you will find on YouTube several of Zawinul’s compositions orchestrated by Mendoza and performed by the Metropole Orchestra. I never thought I would hear anyone perform “Jungle Book” live, let alone an orchestra. But not only does it work, it is simply outstanding. This performance reveals Joe’s genius — remember, this was an improvisation he built up piece-by-piece at his home and in the studio — as well as Mendoza’s gifts as an arranger and orchestrator, and the sympathetic ear that he has with respect to Joe’s music. It’s hard to imagine anyone else pulling this off.

Then there’s “Nubian Sundance,” another composition I thought I’d never hear anyone other than Weather Report perform. But here it is, played by a 60-piece orchestra. For the original recording on Mysterious Traveller, Joe used two drummers and a percussionist. Here the percussion is shared by Weather Report alumni Peter Erskine and Alex Acuña. Acuña’s tamborine work here is astonishing. (The rest of the rhythm section consists of Victor Bailey, Amit Chatterjee and Jim Beard.) You’ll also find “Dream Clock,” “Elegant People,” “In A Silent Way,” “Fast City,” and others.

These YouTube performances come from an NPS television broadcast of the Concertgebouw performance, which was recorded in HD. There is also a documentary about Joe’s career that takes you behind the scenes. The narration is in Dutch, but the musicians who are interviewed — Erskine, Bailey, Acuña, Chatterjee and Beard — speak in English. So if you are patient and wade through the Dutch parts, you’ll be rewarded with some interesting commentary, not to mention a short clip of Joe playing accordion.

Mendoza and the Metropole Orchestra repeated the program at the 2008 North Sea Jazz Festival, which from all accounts was a special performance. Although it wasn’t videotaped, it was professionally recorded, which begs the question of whether a CD is in the offing. No word on that, but we can hope.

One additional note on Vince Mendoza: There is a lengthy interview with Vince at All About Jazz, in which he talks at some length about his association with Joe. Recommended.

More Shameless Self Promotion

Back in 2004 I wrote a 9,300-word article about Joe’s pioneering use of electronic keyboards that appeared in issue No. 9 of the magazine Wax Poetics. It covered Joe’s development as an electronic keyboardist from 1966–-when his playing on the Wurlitzer electric piano helped transform “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” to a national hit–-to his use of the Fender-Rhodes and analog synthesizers with Weather Report. The article included material from my interviews with Joe as well as interviews with Roger Powell, Brian Risner and Jim Swanson. My friend Andy Forward, the most avid Zawinul collector that I know, called it “the best (as in well written and well researched) thing I have read about Joe.”

I am pleased to report that the article is included in Wax Poetics Anthology Volume 2, a compilation of the best from issues issues 6 through 10 in a collectible, hardbound edition. In addition to my article about Joe, there are in-depth retrospectives on Eumir Deodato and Sun Ra, and much more. The Zawinul article also has different photographs from the original magazine issue. Whereas the magazine featured a number of contemporary photos of Joe at his home in Malibu, the anthology includes several vintage shots of Joe working at his rig at his house in Pasadena in the 1970s.

If you’re interested, you can purchase a copy of Anthology Vol. 2 at the Wax Poetics online store. The original issue No. 9 is also available here.

Tale Spinnin’

I recently saw a CD of Weather Report’s Tale Spinnin’ up for auction on ebay for the bargain basement price of–get this–only $90.50. (Wonder how they determined to thrown in that fifty cents on the minimum bid.) Granted, it was the 2002 Sony Legacy Recordings reissue with improved sound and all, but alas, there were no bidders.

That version of Tale Spinnin’ was part of a Sony reissue program under the direction of Bob Belden which also included Mysterious Traveller and Black Market. All three were remastered and included new liner notes by jazz historian Hal Miller.

I’m not sure how many copies of Tale Spinnin’ Legacy made, but by 2008 it was out of print. So I am happy to report that Sony licensed a new reissue to Iconoclassic Records. It hit store shelves last month, and has the same great sound as the 2002 Sony reissue, but with new 1,300-word liner notes by yours truly, based on interviews with Wayne Shorter, Ndugu Chancler and Alphonso Johnson.

Now, if you already own a copy of Tale Spinnin’, then you probably don’t need to buy this one, too, unless you yearn to read the new, never-before-published comments by Wayne, Ndugu and Alphonso about the making of the album. But if you don’t already own it, you can go straight to the Iconoclassics web site and pick it up for a lot less than $90.50. :-) Iconoclassic did a very nice job on the packaging. And those new liner notes are pretty cool, too.