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JAZZ | ALBUM REVIEWS

Zawinul Group in Peak Form on 'Tour'

July 05, 1998|Don Heckman

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JOE ZAWINUL AND THE ZAWINUL SYNDICATE

"World Tour 1997"

Zebra

Nothing enhances a jazz artist's work more than the opportunity to work over an extended period of time with the same musicians. And nothing produces better jazz recordings than live performances by such ensembles.

Here's a prime example. Joe Zawinul's group, the Zawinul Syndicate, produced this mostly live-in-concert two-CD set during an exhaustive 1997 tour that took the band from the United States to Europe, Russia, India and Japan, with various stops in between. And the results afford stunning examples of first-class players in peak form.

Recollections of the 65-year-old Zawinul's days with Weather Report in the 1970s surface from time to time--especially in the bold orchestral sound of the musical samples he employs in his synthesizers, as well as via the presence of former Weather Report members Victor Bailey, bass, and Manolo Badrena, percussion-vocals. But, unlike the cooperative Weather Report, this is very much Zawinul's band, playing mostly his compositions, with his battery of keyboards at the heart of the music.

Equally intriguing, Zawinul's open-minded creativity blends dozens of textures, samples, melodies and rhythms from around the world. Some examples: Badrena's delightful kalimba solo on "Zansa II"; the astonishing bass work of Richard Bona on "Bona Fortuna" and his vocals on the quirkily rhythmic "N'awlins"; and an atmospheric setting of a poem, "Success." All of it is stunning--brilliantly innovative performances that demand repeated rehearing.

CORNELIUS CLAUDIO KREUSCH & BLACKMUDSOUND

"Scoop"

Blue Jackel

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German-born, Manhattan-based pianist Kreusch combines an amazing array of elements in his fifth album as a leader. Reaching out in all directions, he has gathered in the talents of a lineup of artists that includes saxophonists Greg Osby, Ron Blake and Bobby Watson, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, Mali world music star Salif Keita, singer Elisabeth Kontomanou from Guinea and vocalist Richard Bona from Cameroon (who's also heard on the Zawinul disc).

Amazingly, Kreusch, 29--whose own playing is reminiscent of the brisk eloquence of early Bill Evans--brings it all together in a series of compelling musical vignettes. Most of the tracks are filled with charging rhythms, many of them enlivened by the unusual textural sounds of various world percussion instruments. But on one floating ballad--"Feel!"--Kreusch reveals solid mainstream skills and a sensitive melodic touch.

Above all, what makes the album work so well is the light-hearted, confident manner with which the differing musical elements--everything from African rhythms to American rap poetry, all of it placed in a jazz context--are handled. Jazz and world music clearly have much to share, and "Scoop" offers an enticing view of an entertaining dialogue between the two.

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