This live 2-CD set is the fruit of a 1997 Zawinul Syndicate world tour. Powered by Abidjanian drummer Paco Sery and either long-time Zawinul associate Victor Bailey or Richard Bona on bass, the group attains critical mass from the start, cooling down only when a change of pace is warranted.
“Patriots,” which opens the first disc, is a super high-energy workout with a kinetic groove that Zawinul punctuates with horn section-like voicings and guitarist Gary Poulson fiercely screams over. On the meditative yet haunting “Sunday Morning/Sunday Evening,” percussionist Manolo Badrena vocalizes while Zawinul conjures a reverent church-like ambiance. The track seamlessly segues into “Indiscretions” with its eerie, smoldering funk groove and subtle contrasts that support a number of intentionally atmospheric solos. The burners get cranked back up on “Bona Fortuna,” a short but incendiary virtuosic duet between bass and drums.
Featuring the most diverse material of the two discs, the second begins with “Lost Tribes,” a cooking fusion of African, Latin, pop, and jazz elements. Not recorded during the tour and inserted here as a bonus, “When There Was Royalty” is an inspired, solo acoustic piano paean to great players of the ’40s that spontaneously covers a lot of stylistic ground. The set’s quirkiest track is “Success,” which features real church bells and synth-generated chords that support a reflective poetry recitation. The program concludes with “Carnavalito,” a rousing ensemble number further elevated by Badrena’s dynamic percussion work.
In the attempt to balance control and freedom, the Syndicate occasionally loses its focus, but that’s more than compensated for by the high contagious spontaneity and overall stylistic diversity. Electrifying overall.