Zawinul is heard constantly sending mischievous, darting runs of notes between the big...
Sid Smith 2007
The last album Joe Zawinul released in his lifetime is a reminder of just how accomplished an artist he was. The boy who came down from the Austrian mountains and left the Vienna Conservatoire to live in America in1958, had a real ear for melodies that could be as light as a feather or pummel you with the kind of sub-sonic thump. Being at ease within these two aspects of his compositional personality was the secret weapon that propelled his career. His genius was that he rarely overplayed either.
Though several of these tunes incorporated a brash rock-orientated dynamic in their original settings you'd never know that from this collection, sounding as though they were destined for this large-scale brassy setting from day one.
Recorded in 2005 in Zawinul's own jazz club, from the opening shuffle of the title track, the feelgood factor has been set to max via Vince Mendoza's astounding arrangements. The '60s-born, Grammy-winning composer/arranger grew up listening to Weather Report and his respect and grasp of the all-important groove upon which Zawinul placed such importance, rightfully dominates.
With ex-Reporter's Victor Bailey on bass and Alex Acuna on percussion augmenting Zawinul Syndicate drummer, Nathaniel Townsley, all on towering form, it is the top-drawer quality of the ensemble and solo playing of the WDR Big Band that consistently catches the breath. New York trumpeter, John Marshall offers velvet-smooth smooch around a touching, opulently romantic rendition of ''In A Silent Way'', whilst the athletic racing of Paul Heller's tenor shows how young player’s respond to challenge of something as tricky to navigate as ''Fast City'' from WR's 1980 Night Passage.
It goes awry only very occasionally. The normally joyous ''Black Market'' canters a touch too sedately for it to ever really take off in the way we know it can.
Despite Zawinul's propensity to make swaggering pronouncements about his talents, his soloing was always more akin to skimming pebbles across incoming waves than surfing for glory in his outfits before or after Weather Report. Here, with the massed ranks of brass largely liberating him from providing the textured layers within his compositions, Zawinul is heard constantly sending mischievous, darting runs of notes between the big band breakers, teasing and tugging in all the right places.
For all his ability to move with the times, be it adding a soulful stitch to Cannonball Adderley's funky apparel, infusing Miles Davis' music with a pungent European twist, or hard-wiring electronics into the body of jazz itself, Zawinul never lost touch with either his roots or their traditions. The melodic and harmonic depth that informs the spacious compositions were always designed to provide a scorching back-drop for players to blaze brightly. In this respect he always proved an incredibly generous accompanist and writer.
Brown Street resounds triumphantly to these winning facets of his character and Zawinul must have been rightly proud of what he had achieved here. A better memorial to his thrilling abilities than this 2 CD set it's difficult to imagine.