Monday, February 7, 2011

Absolute Ensemble - Absolute Zawinul

This set, made in 2007, is the last studio recording Joe Zawinul worked on before his death. It places the great Austrian pianist/composer in front of a mixed-genre chamber orchestra led by young Estonian classical conductor Kristjan Jarvi, and concentrates on the music of Zawinul's later years with his Syndicate, rather than the more famous two-decade reign of Weather Report. The dressing of jazz, improv or fusion ideas in classical music's graceful robes often does few favours to any of the contributing genres, but this is an exception: sustaining the Syndicate's headlong energies while enhancing passing melodic ideas that the erudite Zawinul would sometimes casually toss out. As well as being a composer of enduring themes, Zawinul was one of the great spontaneous creators of the short fill or linking motif, and Jarvi picks those up and burnishes them with everything from flutes and oboes to contrabassoons, while driving drum-patterns and basslines surge along beneath – and Zawinul's talkative vocoder adds his characteristic asides. The folk-dancing energy of Bimoya sets the vibe humming, Syndicate singer Sabine Kabongo supplies spinechilling chants, the Eastern melodies of Sultan are strengthened by the strings, and The Peasant is an ingenious combination of strings, Indian percussion and deep brass. It's a fitting enrichment of Zawinul's magic, by players who clearly appreciate it.

The New York based Absolute Ensemble, conductor Kristjan Järvi, is and 18-piece electro-acoustic ensemble that fuses classical, jazz, rock and funk. Charles Mingus, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix have found a place on the bill with Bach, Stravinsky and Schoenberg and the works of new composers whom the band is often the first to promote. They have also performed works by the Beatles, Frank Zappa, John Adams and Michael Daugherty.