Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Joe Zawinul, r.i.p.

Joe Zawinul, long-time leader of the fusion group Weather Report, died this morning. Along with a changing cast of characters--Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Alejandro Acuna, Ndugu, Alphonso Johnson, Manolo Badrena, and others--Zawinul and Weather Report played fusion in the post-Miles days when jazz was full of competing but living crosscurrents. Weather Report brought multiculturism--Zawinul was Austrian and his bandmates spanned many countries--to fusion giving a human and rhythmic edge to a music often too bogged down in music virtuosity and electronic technology. Before Weather Report he played keyboards with Cannonball Adderley, working with ground-breaking arranger David Axelrod in the 1960s. Although Zawinul wasn't my favorite of the Weather Report soloists, and his "third-stream" influences weren't to my taste, he was one of those musicians who managed to push jazz through as a popular music without sacrificing itself to smooth jazz pablum. While Weather Report may have spawned some yawny world and smooth jazz traditions, it was still first on the block.

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