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Album Review

Billed as Joe Zawinul's First Symphony, this large-scale classical work may seem like a radical departure to the composer/keyboardist's jazz and pop fans, but it is really a logical expression of Zawinul's indestructible European roots. Moreover, it is not as alien to his jazz work as one might suppose; at times, one can hear trademark Zawinul ostinato lines in fleshed-out, orchestrated form, and rhythms and tunes of his jazz-rock days ("Doctor Honoris Causa," "Pharoah's Dance," "Unknown Soldier") turn up like old friends crashing a black-tie ceremony. The story line of the work is a spinoff of Smetana's "The Moldau," tracing the path of a river from its springhead through Central Europe and the deep historical currents (the Ottoman Empire, Vienna's Golden Age, World War II, etc.) that its journey suggests. Zawinul's own keyboards appear most noticeably in the brooding Third World-ish introductions to the fourth and seventh movements, and the Czech State Philharmonic Orchestra (Brno) under Caspar Richter handles the long symphonic writing smoothly. At 63 minutes, this piece is a real stretch — Zawinul is dealing with a Bruckner-ian time span — and skillful orchestrator, composer, and boundless eclectic that he is, he can't quite fill the huge tapestry consistently. Yet repeated listening reveals a coherent if loose overall structure and some emotional depth; if you work at it, the rewards will come. ~ Richard S. Ginell, Rovi


Born: July 7, 1932 in Vienna, Austria

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Joe Zawinul belonged in a category unto himself -- a European from the heartland of the classical music tradition (Vienna) who learned to swing as freely as any American jazzer, and whose appetite for growth and change remained insatiable. Zawinul's curiosity and openness to all kinds of sounds made him one of the driving forces behind the electronic jazz-rock revolution of the late '60s and '70s -- and later, he would be almost alone in exploring fusions between jazz-rock and ethnic music from all...
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Zawinul: Stories of the Danube, Joe Zawinul
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