Monday, August 13, 2007
August 7th's home page for Google News displayed a headline that not only stopped my entire multi-tasking train of thought, it set an unusually contemplative tone for the whole day. It was a small piece, with no small significance. The headline read: "Joe Zawinul hospitalized in Vienna". The article itself offered little but ominous information. Hospital officials declined to confirm reports that Zawinul was seriously ill, saying the musician had requested that his rights as a patient and a private person be respected. This and every other related news piece referenced an 'undisclosed illness'. There's been no news since.
For many a jazz musician, even the most well known, news like this tends to stay local. More than a few of them have passed on, leaving most of us to say "I didn't even know he was sick". Zawinul, however, has spent 25+ years traveling the far corners of the world with Weather Report. He then retraced those steps, and added new ones, with the more world music based Zawinul Syndicate. This is an artist that is well known, everywhere. Still, we were lucky to get even this little bit of information.
Unfortunately, follow-up or ongoing reports are not likely to be forthcoming. There are tens of thousands of fans that are following the developments quite closely. Very few of them are reporters, and even fewer of them are close to the situation in Vienna. We now start the cycle of not hearing any news, good or bad, until something significant develops. The most likely are Joe is either back in the studio or back on tour, or the word that the greatest fusion keyboardist of all time has departed this earth. His next scheduled tour date is November 1st, at his Birdland club in Vienna. Let's pray the opening night is a great success.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Open sessions of pure jazz improvisation were common back in the day. By “back in the day”, I mean the mid-seventies. You could catch these on Sunday afternoons at a number of clubs on either side of the bay. Frequently, top artists headlining at the marquee clubs would stop by, and you’d witness something truly special. The Christian McBride Situation represents an updated version of those sessions.
At the 2005 Monterey Jazz Festival, McBride was without two of his usual band members due to scheduling conflicts. McBride brought Ron Blake and
The version of the Situation that came to
Sundance led off with a spoken word piece, then launched a beat-loop flavored somewhere between Afro-Cuban, Old-School Funk, Electronica, and Techno. After a moment of contemplation, McBride jumped in and created a fierce bass line that established the groove, and a counterpoint to the rhythms. Rushen was next in with complementing chords and riffs, setting in yet another style on top of the groove.
It took all of 30 seconds to create an incredible flight of reckless, yet controlled fancy. Chord and key changes would come without warning, and many times, without a cue. They were usually initiated by Patrice, who gave no real visual or musical hint that they were coming. Ellis would watch her intently in anticipation. McBride had to be using a sixth sense. Which way was the change going, up or down, and by how much? They hit every change perfectly, the whole night, like they were following a chart. This was incredible to watch and hear.
The only way to describe the music is to say, you had to be there. After exhausting an idea, they transition into something new. McBride or Sundance would start, and the others would fall in with what they felt would work, or lay out until they had something that fit. I don’t know if a pre-show audience member about a Julian Priester Tribute that McBride participated in had any influence or not. Okay, it was me and Julian talking about that night in 1999 when the members of Herbie Hancock’s legendary quintet were reunited (minus Billy Hart, who had a conflict). Besides Herbie, there was Benny Maupin on sax and bass clarinet, Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Julian Priester (who wasn’t expected to play, so soon after a liver transplant), and Buster Williams on bass. Subbing on drums was Terri-Lynne Carrington. They had just finished “I Have a
McBride has scheduled more “Situations”, with a variety of personnel. Hopefully McBride will tape the various Situations, and releases a live compilation. Kudos to Christian McBride for having the courage to take on such a high risk venture, and bring back something long considered a lost art.