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Joe Zawinul & the Zawinul Syndicate: 75

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Listening to the kinetic energy and surging grooves generated by his dynamic Zawinul Syndicate on this exhilarating two-CD set, recorded in concert in Lugano, Switzerland on the occasion of Zawinul’s 75th birthday (July 7, 2007), there is absolutely no sign that the maestro himself was deep in the throes of a rare form of skin cancer (Merkel Cell Carcinoma) that would force him to be hospitalized in his native Vienna a month later and eventually take his life on September 11. A lifelong road warrior whose gruff, old-school demeanor was tempered by his forward-thinking musical tendencies and delicacy with ballads, Zawinul battled his cancer on the bandstand with the competitive spirit of a soccer star in the World Cup Finals. His answer to his illness was to play, and in true macho-Austrian fashion he played his ass off right up until the end.

By the time of this live recording, documenting the Syndicate toward the end of its 20th anniversary world tour, Zawinul’s finely tuned pan-global juggernaut was at the peak of its powers. A remarkable rhythm section comprised of the extraordinary electric bassist Linley Marthe from the island nation of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean and super-charged drummer Paco Sery from the Ivory Coast of Africa, along with a tandem of hand percussionists in Jorge Bezerra of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Aziz Sahmaoui from Marrakesh, Morocco, underscores the action with uncanny power and precision. In many ways, it’s Zawinul’s ideal rhythm section-disciplined enough to provide the demanding bandleader with the kind of fire he requires, yet flexible enough to stretch out on signature Syndicate vehicles like the pulse-quickening “Orient Express”(from 1992’s My People) and the exotic “Cafe Andalusia” (from 2002’s Faces & Places) or interpret classic Weather Report material like “Scarlet Woman” (from 1974’s Mysterious Traveler), “Fast City” and “Madagascar” (from 1980’s Night Passage) “Badia”(from 1975’s Tale Spinnin’) or “Boogie Woogie Waltz” (from 1973’s Sweetnighter) with a fresh perspective.

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