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Oh, the misplaced hopes of a man out of touch! I remember Zawinul as writer and performer with the likes of Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davies. Then there was his 'fusion' stuff with Weather Report. Now there's what appears to be called 'electric world music'. It was interesting to note certain older members of the audience quietly slipping out during the first twenty minutes or so. Had I not been obliged to produce a review, I might even have joined them. And that would have been a shame because, in the course of a lengthy set and two encores, there were some remarkable moments of musicianship.

In fairness to the man, Joe Zawinul was signalling his intent over twenty years ago, with remarks like: 'The mixing of races and the mixing of cultures creates the greatest of all things ... just check out the countries from which the greatest intellectual and artistic giants come. They have always been from the countries where a great amount of mixing was going on.'

Well, there was plenty of mixing here. A brief look at the line-up makes the point: Manolo Badrena; Amid Chatterjee; Sabine Kabongo; Nathaniel Townley III ... , and the best moments came when the individual performers were given a chance to shine. Amid Chatterjee, the group's guitarist, is also possessed of a haunting, multi-octave voice, which he used to spine-tingling effect on Tower of Silence. Sabine Kabongo, the main vocalist, who featured on only half of the numbers, is an improviser of great imagination, and one of the highlights came with a series of 'call and answer' exchanges between her and Zawinul, in Café Andalucia. She sang a refrain; he sampled it electronically and 'sang' it back using the keyboard. In fact, vocalisation is the keynote of the group. Zawinul himself sang, and made various other vocal noises, as did the percussionist, Manolo Badrena. In the latter's featured solo, he combined bizarre percussive sounds with fragments of speech. It could have been a dadaist poem, and it was wonderful, all the more so because of his apparent, and infectious, enjoyment of what he was doing.

There were other solos and duets, including an extended, and rivetting, piece of interplay between Linley Marthe and Nathaniel Townley, on bass guitar and drums. The bass playing was, technically, some of the best you're likely to hear -- corruscating runs, harmonics thrown out at speed and with ease, but never merely flashy; and, as with all the most interesting moments in this concert, rhythmically complex.

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Copyright © 29 May 2004 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK


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