Joe Zawinul had a tremendous history in the development of hard bop jazz onto jazz fusion. He immigrated to the US from Austria in 1959. A year later he was part of Cannonball Adderley’s quintet. And he wound up being the composer of Cannonball’s best known song “Mercy Mercy Mercy”. By the late 60’s,Zawinul was playing and writing with Miles Davis on his fusion process album In A Silent Way. When he and another fellow Miles alumni Wayne Shorter formed Weather Report two years later,Zawinul was again pioneering jazz instrumentation into the era of synthesizers.
Between 1971 and 1984,Weather Report recorded 14 albums. Many of them were iconic in the annals of the fusion genre. The band was also well known for developing pioneering bass players. This included Miroslav Vitous,Alphonso Johnson and best known of all the late Jaco Pastorious. The bands final album in 1986 came totally by accident. They thought they’d fulfilled their Columbia contract with their previous album in 1985’s Sportin’ Life. This didn’t end up being the case,so they had to make one more album. And Zawinul really made it one for the road with the title song to their final album called “This Is This”.
Mino Cinelu starts off with some fast paced Afro-Latin percussion mixed up high. Peter Erksine plays a steady,marching groove that fits like a glove into the spaces left in Cinelu’s percussion. Zawinul and new bassist Victor Bailey rolled right along upfront with one of Zawinul’s most melodically hummable synth bass lines. He provides two for this song-the other a deeper 8-note one later on. Carlos Santana also provides two different guitar parts here-one is high pitched,cosmic guitar atmospherics and some of his exciting lead soloing as well playing call and response to Zawinul’s synth bass lead..
Santana actually get’s accompanied by Zawinul providing two synth brass lines-the first orchestrated big band style ones. This part comes into play after the first few choruses. On the last few choruses of the song, the other synth brass part arrives playing more succinct,funkier charts. By this time Santana’s guitar,Cinelu’s percussion,Erksine’s drums and Zawinul’s synth bass all come together in a beautiful,rhythmic unison of colorful sounds. Little by little,each instrumental element drops out of the mix. And the song slows back into percussion,bass and guitar as it fades.
Before people like Billy Preston and of course Prince,Joe Zawinul was a major pioneer of the bass synthesizers. By 1986,synth brass was the big thing in American pop music with the advent of the Minneapolis sound. With Zawinul having worked it for years,”This Is This” is a highly underrated song for Weather Report-perhaps one of Zawinul’s strongest compositions. The groove is strongly Afrocentric,and the playing is as funky as they come. It really brings out the best in ever instrumentalist involved and allowed Weather Report to go out again innovating with some electro funk style world fusion.
Filed under 1986, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Carlos Santana, Columbia Records, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, guitar, jazz fusion, Joe Zawinul, Mino Cinelu, percussion, Peter Erksine, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizers, Victor Bailey, Weather Report, world fusion
In the days since the passing of Joe Sample,I continue to be bought back to the moment when I first heard the Crusaders album Street Life
on the brand new cassette deck-cruising back from Strawberries record store on a balmy summer evening in the family’s 1992 Toyota Corolla sometime in early 1994. This was the first time I can recall hearing the Crusaders. Of course then being deep into my Jacksons/ Michael Jackson period,it never occurred to me that Wilton Felder played bass on “I Want You Back” in 1969. As time has marched on? The Crusaders have come to represent the very core of the qualities I most appreciate in instrumentalists overall. This was an album my father had in his collection for years. It was the Crusaders first release of the 90’s. And it featured the bass playing and production of one of my top favorite musicians-Marcus Miller. Hadn’t heard it in some years,and when I did wasn’t sure who this was. So its a privilege to come back to this now,with the knowledge I have today,to go more in depth into it’s contents.
“Pessimisticism” is ever the classic Marcus Miller style production-with the heavy funk bottom. Interesting enough,its another of Joe Sample’s harmonically expansive compositions-setting a very probing,questioning melodic mood. Joe Zawinul’s classic “Mercy Mercy Mercy” is given the classic Crusaders slow burn groove treatment-one where Felder’s sax (as usual) really gets a chance to shine as he sustains and bends the notes of the chorus just beautifully. ” Little Things Mean A Lot” is a mid tempo bossa with a Caribbean flavor added to the rhythm. Stevie Wonder’s “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” receives a very progressive fusion style arrangement-ending with some very cinematic chord progressions built around Stevie’s iconic melodicism. “Shake Dance” represents one of my favorites on the album-another Miller composition with a very strong late 80’s hard funk feel-centering strongly not only around his bass but rapid fire instrumental breaks. “Maputo” is another favorite of mine,and another Miller composition and is another slow burning groove with a strong,swelling melody. Joe Sample finishes off the album with the title song and “Running Man”-two more melodically probing compositions with that ideal blend of jazz and funk rhythms the Crusaders do so well.
Music throughout the decades can be slickly produced. But slick production changes with every technological innovation in recording. And in their time together,the Crusaders had by this time already been recording entities through at least three significant recording innovations. By this time,that included the era of full digital recording. What made it all work was the renowned synergy that was not only created by the Crusaders themselves,but any other musicians who happened to be playing with them. And that also adds into another thing that makes the music the band creates so special: those small instrumental touches that almost seem like they shouldn’t be too significant. Session guitarist Michael Landau’s lowly mixed guitar riffs generally only play accents on these songs,for example. But they serve as an important building block that creates the house of rhythm. What may sound like a minor instrumental part on a Crusaders albums such as this serves as far more than mere sound coloring. They have a voice. They make a statement. Everything about a Crusaders song-instrumentally and melodically,just seems to have meaning when you listen to it. And it’s this gift of instrumental personality and strong affection for their craft that made musicians such as Joe Sample masters of the very thing they did best.
Originally Posted On September 14th,2014
Link to original review here*