Author Archives: Curt Bianchi

Ron van Stratum’s Swingin’ In The Swamp

I got a copy of Swingin’ In The Swamp the other day and I’m really enjoying it. I can confidently state that listening to this album will bring a smile to Zawinul fans. Ron cites Zawinul, Jim Beard and Scott Kinsey as influences, and that definitely comes through. Lots of funky basslines, tasty keyboard work, and world influences. Ron’s work on the drums and percussion underpins it all. It’s good to learn about a new musician making this kind of music. Keep it up, Ron!

Here’s a press release brief describing the making of the album:

“Swingin’ In The Swamp” – the story of how this album came into being is as unusual as the name itself! And the best way to hear it is from Ron van Stratum himself: “About five years ago, I felt that it was time to write a new repertoire for my band, go into a great studio, record a CD and get the ball rolling. But as life so often goes, I was constantly busy with other (wonderful) projects for other (wonderful) people on stage and in the studio. Parallel to this I started to build my own recording studio, finally write new songs and record demos. I invited some musician friends to play these pieces with me and – wow! It sounded so good that I decided to make the album completely by myself, as composer, drummer/percussionist, producer, sound designer, engineer…“

Ron van Stratum brings a very precise idea of “his” kind of music: jazz fusion with strong world music influences. He draws inspiration from greats like Joe Zawinul to whom the song “Zawinizm” is dedicated, and who has in Ron’s opinion created his very own style of music; Jim Beard who plays along on some tracks from the album and brings the composition “Ode To The Doo Da Day” along; and also from Scott Kinsey. “Swingin’ In The Swamp”, a piece characterised by Kinsey’s music and the title track of the album, was created from pure improvisation in the recording studio. It has neither a “real” theme or melody yet still holds to a traditional form.

Ron van Stratum thought spontaneously of the wide swamplands in their best sense: unbelievably flexible, incredibly dense, deceptive in appearance, and always bursting full of life!

Metropole Orchestra Threatened With Closure

After 65 years of artistic achievement, the newly formed government in The Netherlands has recommended that the Music Centre of the Dutch Broadcasting Company (MCO) be closed. This would shutter four internationally respected radio ensembles, including the Metropole Orchestra. The Metropole is the world’s largest professional pop and jazz orchestra. Renowned for its wide-ranging abilities, the orchestra performs anything from chansons to world-music, film-scores, rock- or pop-tunes as well as high-octane jazz.

The Metropole Orchestra is a regular feature at the North Sea Jazz festival and the yearly Holland Festival along with countless TV and radio programs broadcast to millions. The ever-growing Dutch film and television industry relies heavily on the orchestra for its film scores. Since 2005 the Metropole has been under the baton of four-time Grammy Award winner Vince Mendoza, and can be seen frequenting the concert stage, in festivals and on recordings in the Netherlands as well as internationally.

A CD of the orchestra’s tribute to Joe Zawinul is due out at the end of this month. The Metropole Orchestra is an international treasure that deserves saving. You can express your support at the Netherlands Broadcasting Music Center web site.

The Syndicate Fall Concerts

The Syndicate has several gigs coming up this fall. The band features four members of the final edition of the Zawinul Syndicate: Drummer Paco Sery, percussionist/vocalist Aziz Sahmaoui, percussionist Jorge Bezerra, and guitarist Alegre Corrêa. Additional members are Aloune Wade on bass, Emile Parisien on sax, and Thierry Eliez on keyboards.

I am also told that the band is preparing for its first recording, which will include songs that haven’t been performed by the Syndicate live, selected from Joe’s albums Dialects, Black Water, and Lost Tribes, among others.

Oct. 14 Urania Cinema Pecs
Oct. 28 Urania Budapest
Oct. 29 Eventhall Tiflis
Oct. 30 Porgy & Bess Vienna
Oct. 31 Orpheum Graz
Nov. 21 Jazz Café London
Nov. 22 Kammerlichtspiele Club Klagenfurt
Nov. 23 Treibhaus Innsbruck
Nov. 24 Wels
Nov. 26 Palac Akropolis Prague

“I’m Not To Be Imitated”

Today is the third anniversary of the passing of Joe Zawinul. To honor his memory, I have chosen a clip from an interview I did with him in February 2007. We sat on lounge chairs at Joe’s Malibu home, high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The main purpose of our interview was to talk about the history of Joe’s band, the Zawinul Syndicate. But there were a few other nuggets as well. In this clip I ask Joe about the importance of the human voice in his music and he gave me a revealing explanation of his musical philosophy.

We miss you, Joe, but your music lives!

Alphonso Johnson to Receive the Bass Player Lifetime Achievement Award

I am pleased to report that Alphonso Johnson will receive the 2010 Bass Player magazine Lifetime Achievement Award. The ceremony will take place on Saturday, October 23 at the evening event of Bass Player LIVE! 2010, after which Alphonso will perform along with David Garfield, Mike O’Neill and Leon “Ndugu” Chancler.

Alphonso is best known to Zawinul fans for his two-year stint with Weather Report. He first came to Joe and Wayne’s attention in 1973, when Weather Report shared a bill with Chuck Mangione in Johnson’s hometown of Philadelphia. Alphonso was Mangione’s bass player at the time and Wayne and Joe liked what they heard. They later invited him to audition during the recording of Mysterious Traveller. He had just turned 23 years of age.

“Alphonso Johnson had a lot,” Zawinul recalled years later. “He was young, he was bright, he was disciplined, and he could lay down a groove that hurt and that’s what I wanted.” Alphonso was the linchpin that enabled Weather Report to transition into its mature phase that led to a string of ground-breaking albums. On Mysterious Traveller, Johnson memorably improvised the bass hook that launched the band into a jam that produced the ultra-funky tune “Cucumber Slumber.” He also brought in the composition “Scarlet Woman.”

Johnson toured with Weather Report throughout 1974 and 1975, and when Chester Thompson took over the drum chair, the band jelled and produced some blistering music that can be heard on the album Live and Unreleased. He also played on the albums Tale Spinnin’ and Black Market. The last track on the latter was “Hernandu,” which Joe once described as “a great tune by Alphonso Johnson.”

Joe and Wayne’s respect for Alphonso remained undiminished decades later. When I casually mentioned Johnson’s name to Joe during a 2004 interview, his response was immediate and unequivocal: “Ohh! He had the funk, man! He was the funkiest of ’em all–even more than Jaco.”

And in an interview last year, Wayne gave a more abstract but equally meaningful response when asked about Alphonso: “We liked the way he set a groove–we use to say a ‘loping’ kind of groove. And we liked him as a person. He was well-mannered. He was tall and he carried his height well. He didn’t have a problem with self-esteem. He didn’t hide behind his instrument, or hide behind being a musician. He was well-tutored by his mother and father. Miles [Davis] used to say, (imitating Miles), ‘Some people are raised well.'”

In addition to Chuck Mangione and Weather Report, Alphonso has performed or recorded with Santana, Woody Herman, The Crusaders, Bob Weir, George Duke, En Vogue, Wayne Shorter, Sergio Mendes, Tony Williams, Joe Williams, Gregory Hines, Eddie Henderson, Flora Purim, Quincy Jones, Lee Ritenour, Phil Collins, The Whispers, John McLaughlin, Jeffrey Osborne, Sarah Vaughan, Dori Caymmi, Carl Anderson, and The Meeting. He also has three albums under his own name.

Alphonso is also a music educator, and he is currently on the faculty of the University of Southern California Jazz Studies Department.

Bass Player LIVE! is an annual two-day event that “brings players, manufacturers, and artists together in an intimate environment for hands-on access to the latest instruments, equipment and instruction on playing technique and application.” Previous recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award include Charlie Haden, Rocco Prestia, Tony Levin, Lee Sklar, Verdine White, Anthony Jackson, Will Lee, Oteil Burbridge, Leo Fender, Percy Heath, Milt Hinton, Jerry Jemmott, Al McKibbon, Joe Osborn, Chuck Rainey, Bobby Rodriguez, and Billy Sheehan.

Congrats to Alphonso. If you’re in L.A. in October, get out to the Key Club and give him his props.

Metropole Orchestra Tribute to Zawinul Coming on CD

Ever since watching video of the Metropole Orchestra performing the music of Joe Zawinul, I’ve been hoping that these recordings would be officially released on CD, if not DVD. Now such a CD is in the offing.

BHM Records has announced that it will release Fast City, a tribute to Joe Zawinul performed by the Metropole Orchestra under the direction of Vince Mendoza. The release is scheduled for Germany in October. If past practice is an indicator, a US distributor won’t pick it up until many months later, although AbstractLogix frequently stocks import CDs for purchase in the US.

I wrote about the orchestra’s Zawinul tribute in April 2009. The orchestration and performances are amazing. Mendoza is a gifted orchestrator and his empathy for Zawinul’s compositions makes for transcendent music. Songs such as “Peace,” “Jungle Book” and “Nubian Sundance” are noteworthy both because one wouldn’t expect to ever hear them played live, but also for the way in which the Metropole Orchestra reveals layers that extend beyond the original recordings by Joe and Weather Report.

Fast City will consists of six tracks recorded on January 26, 2008 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. The remaining three tracks were recorded live at the North Sea Jazz Festival on July 11, 2008. Guest artists on both occasions included Peter Erskine, Amit Chatterjee, Victor Bailey, and Jim Beard. Alex Acuña plays percussion on the Concertgebouw tracks while Efrain Toro handles percussion on the North Sea recordings.

More in October.

Track List

1. “Jungle Book” (07:39) – Joe Zawinul/ arr. Vince Mendoza. Recorded January 26, 2008 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

2. “Orient Express” (09:32) – Joe Zawinul/arr. Vince Mendoza. Recorded July 11, 2008 at the North Sea Jazz Festival.

3. “The Juggler” (05:24) – Joe Zawinul/ arr. Vince Mendoza. Recorded July 11, 2008 at the North Sea Jazz Festival.

4. “Nubian Sundance” (10:29) – Joe Zawinul/ arr. Vince Mendoza. January 26, 2008 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

5. “Dream Clock” (07:37) – Joe Zawinul/ arr. Vince Mendoza. January 26, 2008 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

6. “Fast City” (06:07) – Joe Zawinul/ arr. Vince Mendoza. Recorded July 11, 2008 at the North Sea Jazz Festival.

7. “Peace” (11:05) – Joe Zawinul/ arr. Vince Mendoza. January 26, 2008 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

8. “Tower Of Silence” (06:47) – Joe Zawinul/ arr. Vince Mendoza. January 26, 2008 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

9. “In A Silent Way” (04:20) – Joe Zawinul/ arr. Vince Mendoza. January 26, 2008 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

Weather Report: Live In Hamburg 1971

Weather Report: Live In Hamburg 1971 has been released on NTSC DVD suitable for playback on US DVD players. This DVD documents the original incarnation of the band with Miroslav Vitous, Alphonse Mouzon and Dom Um Romao. Originally recorded for broadcast on the German television program “Beat Club,” the video and audio quality are excellent (although it was recorded in mono). The set clocks in at 48 minutes and includes performances of “Orange Lady,” “Directions,” “Seventh Arrow,” “Waterfall” and “Dr. Honoris Causa.” This is a rare glimpse at the band in its earliest days, and not be missed by Weather Report fans.

Quote for the Day

Stanley Clarke, talking about the tune “Larry Has Traveled 11 Miles and Waited a Lifetime for the Return of Vishnu’s Report” on his new album, The Stanley Clarke Band:

“If you study the title, it has little fragments of the names of five or six really influential jazz-rock fusion bands, like Larry Coryell’s Eleventh House, Miles Davis of course, Mahavishnu Orchestra, the Tony Williams Lifetime, Return to Forever, and Weather Report,” he explains. “And that tune, if you listen to it really carefully, you’ll hear elements of all those bands—although to me it sounds more like Weather Report than anybody.

“Even though I was in Return to Forever, and I love Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles and all that stuff, to me the most creative out of all those bands was Weather Report,” he adds. “Don’t tell Chick I said that!”

Really? Corea wouldn’t be bothered by this well-deserved nod to the late Joe Zawinul, would he?

“Ah,” says Clarke, laughing, “you don’t know Chick like I know him!”