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"If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out."
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Friday, September 3, 2010


When classical ensemble get mixed up in jazz, the results are mixed, at best.  Or at least that used to be the case.

These days, jazz musicians are more fluent with the power and use of classical forms, and classical musicians probably grew up with a fluency with pop and jazz rhythms.  As a result, these kinds of jazz/classical crossovers have been seeming more natural in recent years.  Esperanza Spalding's latest, Chamber Music Society, has no trouble incorporating a string trio, for example, to choose just the most recent example.

Here is my review of the powerful final album featuring the keyboardist and composer (and Weather Report founder) Joe Zawinul, Absolute Zawinul.

Properly speaking, this is not a Joe Zawinul recording as much as it is the latest project from the classical ensemble, the Absolute Ensemble, led by Kristjan Jarvi.  Jarvi has taken an album's worth of brand new Zawinul composition and arranged them for strings and woodwinds, brass and percussion, then invited Zawinul and members of his "Zawinul Syndicate" to bring their voices, groove, and—'f course—keyboard sounds.

The result is mostly wonderful.  The classical ensemble brings life and the human touch to Zawinul's tunes, where in his own hands they sometimes seemed like over-synthesized puzzles.  This is not so much jazz, at this point, as it is a truly whole blend of world music, American music, and classical music.  The interlocking voices and lines that Zawinul favors fall perfectly into the zone of Absolute's string and flutes—it's a great, pulsing thing.

In too many places, Joe's own vo-coder-laced vocals seem like a lapse in taste, but this is easy to overlook, particularly as you ought to be in the mood to celebrate the man himself.  His work with Cannonball Adderly and Miles Davis is timeless and, for me, the first three or four Weather Report albums are still always worth returning to.  If his solo career was not my cup of tea, then Absolute Zawinul makes me realize that I may have been missing something great.

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