The Syndicate Keeps Joe’s Music Alive

November 25th, 2012

Since Joe’s passing in 2007, The Syndicate has been at the forefront of keeping his music alive. It is essentially a continuation of Joe’s last band, The Zawinul Syndicate, which at the time was fielding arguably its strongest lineup in its 20-year history. Four members of that group decided to carry on: Drummer Paco Sery, percussionist/vocalist Aziz Sahmaoui, percussionist Jorge Bezerra, and guitarist Alegre Corrêa, who has since been replaced by Munir Hossn. They were joined by Aloune Wade on bass, Emile Parisien on sax, and Thierry Eliez on keyboards. Sabine Kabongo, vocalist in The Zawinul Syndicate, frequently performs with the band as well.

They originally retained the name The Zawinul Syndicate, reflecting their intent to continue playing the music they performed with Joe, but the Zawinul estate asked them to drop “Zawinul” from their name; hence, The Syndicate. (The estate put together The Zawinul Legacy Band, featuring Weather Report alumni Alphonso Johnson, Chester Thompson, and Bobby Thomas, as well as Scott Kinsey and Bobby Malach. The Legacy Band performed a couple of concerts in Europe this past summer.)

Among the highlights this past year, The Syndicate performed at Joe Zawinul Day in Vienna, a grand celebration of Joe’s music; and at the Blue Note in Tokyo on the occasion of Joe’s 80th birthday. In May, The Syndicate released its first album, File Under Zawinul, which consists of all Zawinul compositions. For those of us in the states, it can be ordered from Pierre Tassone’s Music By Mail. Remarkably, it hit number one on the Hungarian pop chart. Those Hungarians have good taste!

The band has three performances coming next month in Munich, Vienna and Klagenfurt (Austria.) They’re also booked in France and Zurich in May, with more to come.

I don’t know who is the driving force behind keeping The Syndicate together, but I suspect that a large share of the credit goes to Risa Zincke, Joe’s long-time manager. Regardless, we’re lucky to have them. The Syndicate’s official website is Basitours is the European booking agent, and a good place to look for upcoming concerts.

File Under Zawinul Video:

At the Blue Note Tokyo:

At Joe Zawinul Day in Vienna, Austria:

Anil Prasad’s Innerviews, The Book

March 1st, 2011

If you’re not familiar with Anil Prasad’s website, Innerviews, you should be. Anil created it in 1994 as a home for his in-depth interviews of musicians who span an amazingly diverse range of styles. He says it is the web’s “first and longest-running music magazine,” which I don’t doubt. After all, 1994 was the year that Netscape Navigator–the first popular Internet browser–was introduced to the public. Very few websites of any kind go back as far as Innerviews.

Anil’s interview style lends itself to revealing portraits of his subjects. It starts with superb preparation and research; Anil is incredibly informed about his subjects, and I’m sure this goes a long way toward establishing a basis of mutual respect between interviewer and interviewee. But that’s just a starting point. Anil asks probing, open-ended questions that give his subjects plenty of room to express themselves in intimate and candid ways. The website format frees him from the word count constraints typical of print publications, making for expansive conversations. And because Anil’s interviews are not driven by the marketing needs of record companies, the conversations get to the heart of what is important to the musicians themselves.

I’ve read and collected a tremendous number of Zawinul interviews and articles over the years, and when I read Anil’s 1998 interview with Joe, it immediately stood out as one of the best, if not the best. That interview and 23 others are now collected in the book Innerviews, Music Without Borders. In addition to Joe, artists featured in the book include Jon Anderson, Björk, Bill Bruford, Martin Carthy, Stanley Clarke, Chuck D, Ani DiFranco, Béla Fleck, Michael Hedges, Jonas Hellborg, Zakir Hussain, Leo Kottke, Bill Laswell, John McLaughlin, Noa, David Sylvian, Tangerine Dream, David Torn, Ralph Towner, McCoy Tyner, Eberhard Weber, Chris Whitley, and Victor Wooten.

Some of the evocative topics explored include:

• Björk on the chaos of her creative process
• Stanley Clarke on saying no to Miles Davis
• Béla Fleck on journeying to Africa to discover the roots of the banjo
• Bill Laswell on the drama of producing difficult artists
• John McLaughlin on turning the tables on the jazz police
• McCoy Tyner on the deification of John Coltrane
• Tangerine Dream on electronica transcending technology
• Zawinul on the creation of the hip-hop beat.

A few of these interviews originally appeared on the website, but most are new for the book. It is not an overstatement to say that Anil’s book is a significant contribution to music journalism. I highly recommend it.

Weather Report Live In Berlin 1975

February 3rd, 2011

According to recent press releases, producer Joachim Becker–known to Zawinul fans as the producer of most of Joe’s post-Columbia Records output–has teamed up with the MiG Music to form “Art of Groove,” a new addition to the MiG family.

Among its first releases will be a Weather Report DVD/CD combo, Live In Berlin 1975. The press release describes it as, “the first part of the long-awaited Weather Report live-trilogy will be published as a DVD with bonus CD at the same time. The 40th anniversary of the founding of Weather Report is in 2011. In commemoration, the Zawinul estate and ‘Art of Groove’ are pleased to publish the original tape-recording of the super-band’s performance at the Berliner Jazztage 1975 for the first time.”

I don’t know what the rest of the “long-awaited Weather Report live-trilogy” is, although before his passing Joe did tell me that he had acquired the rights to the 1984 concert video “Domino Theory,” which was originally published in Japan.

Meanwhile, Live In Berlin 1975 is listed on various European sites such as Amazon UK.

2011 Syndicate Concerts

February 3rd, 2011

I have updated the Tour Dates page to list The Syndicate concert dates that have come to my attention. Of particular note is the July 6 performance in Vienna as part Zawinul Music Days. I don’t know what Zawinul Music Days entails, but if I find out I’ll pass it along.

Alphonse Mouzon Interview

February 3rd, 2011

Scene Newspaper posted an interview with original Weather Report drummer Alphonse Mouzon. In it he talks some about his experience with Weather Report as well, his seventies fusion albums, and his clothes. :-)

Rudy Regalado, RIP

November 7th, 2010

Percussionist Rudy Regalado passed away last Thursday. He was 67 years old. Born and raised in East Los Angeles, he is best known as a member of the 1970s rock band El Chicano.

Of note to Zawinul fans, Regalado performed on Joe’s 1988 album The Immigrants, earning co-composer credit for the tune “Criollo,” on which Regalado sang a chant based on the life of the nineteenth century revolutionary Simon Bolivar. “I put on a chord structure and made a hymn out of it,” Joe said in a 1988 interview, “because of the significance of the song. I played a real hip bass line on it. I think it’s going to scare most bass players.” (Nearly 20 years later you could still find a bass player or two trying to figure that line out.) Regalado also performed on 1996’s My People — with another writing credit for “My Gente” — as well as 2002’s Faces and Places.

A biography can be viewed here.

Quote For The Day

October 22nd, 2010

Richard Bona describes Zawinul as the greatest collaborator he has ever worked with:

“You learn from everyone you ever play with. If you open your heart and open your eyes, you learn from everyone. I’ve worked with Pat Metheny and George Benson, they all had different interpretations, but if I have to name one person then that is Joe Zawinul from Weather Report.”

Fast City Released in Europe, US Release Nov. 9

October 22nd, 2010

Fast City, the Metropole Orchestra tribute to Joe Zawinul, was released today in Europe. It is available from Amazon Germany.

It will be released in the US on November 9 and will be available from Amazon US, among other resellers.

More info about Fast City can be found here.

Ron van Stratum’s Swingin’ In The Swamp

October 19th, 2010

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

October 6th, 2010

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.