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Scott Kinsey: We Speak Luniwaz: The Music of Joe Zawinul (Whirlwind)

A review of the keyboardist's tribute album to Joe Zawinul

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Scott Kinsey, We Speak Luniwaz: The Music of Joe Zawinul
The cover of We Speak Luniwaz: The Music of Joe Zawinul by Scott Kinsey

Keyboardist Scott Kinsey’s fascination with Joe Zawinul (1932-2007) increased after he joined guitarist Scott Henderson’s band Tribal Tech upon graduating from Berklee in 1991. It just so happened that Henderson had been part of Zawinul’s post-Weather Report group, the Zawinul Syndicate, in the 1980s. Kinsey subsequently became a rarity: a keyboardist who, like his idol, could play piano, organ, and synthesizer with equal aplomb. On We Speak Luniwaz, Kinsey presents a sequence of creatively arranged Zawinul gems, plus a couple of original compositions, with a gifted core band (saxophonist/flutist Katisse Buckingham, bassist Hadrien Feraud, and drummer Gergö Borlai) and guest stars.

Those guests include bassist Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets, Allan Holdsworth), who contributes his signature tone and feel to the opening “The Harvest,” from Zawinul’s 1986 release Dialects. Tool drummer Danny Carey adds electronic drum embellishments amid Buckingham’s flute, a flexible Borlai cadence making 4/4 time sound like anything but, and Kinsey’s homage on keyboards and vocoder. “Victims of the Groove,” from the Zawinul Syndicate’s 1992 album Lost Tribes, is likewise authentic, aided by the accents of former Weather Report percussionist Bobby Thomas Jr.

Kinsey’s originals include the rousing title track, with contributions from co-composers Steve Tavaglione (soprano saxophone) and Cyril Atef (percussion) and additional percussion by original Tribal Tech member Brad Dutz, and “Running the Dara Down,” featuring the keyboardist’s worldly tonal voodoo stew. Weather Report highlights include a medley in which Feraud recreates Alphonso Johnson’s signature bass line from “Cucumber Slumber” and Buckingham raps, “If I were you, I’d let the legendary Joe Zawinul empower you.” Kinsey cloaks the signature melody, and slows the rhythm, of the title track to the 1976 gem Black Market until late, and Feraud cuts loose à la Jaco Pastorius on Weather Report co-founder Wayne Shorter’s aptly named “Fast City.”

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