Bonus Film Featuring Joe Zawinul (11 minutes)
Joe Zawinul (Keyboards); Jay Elfenbein, Mat Fieldes (Bass); Martin Kuuskmann (Bassoon); Paco Sery (Drums); Allegre Correa (Guitar); Linley Marthe (Bass); Sabine Kabongo (Vocals) and more
You don't need to be a jazz fan in order to immediately associate the name of Joe Zawinul with a whole list of melodies and sounds. The native Viennese is one of history's most productive jazz musicians, who not only worked with Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis, the classicist, in the hotspot between funk, rock and Jazz, but, above all, also opened new dimensions with his own band; the Weather Report and Zawinul Syndicate, which enriched musicians from all genres for many generations to come. Starting in the fifties, he worked on a vocabulary until his death; it was characterized by a musical notion of having an open world view, intercultural respect, and everyday compatibility of the highest quality, and by constant search of new interfaces between principles of electric and acoustic sound production. "Using other cultures is not really the point" according to his credo. "But I travel quite a lot and watch people. Above all, it captivates me how people talk in different places. When I visit a marketplace in another country, I register a kind of an overtone that I later express in my music. I do nothing else, but tell stories."
The Estonian conductor Kristjan Jarvi comes from the opposite side of the musical spectrum. One and a half generations younger than the Viennese jazz legend, he had already conquered the world of classical music. He conducted almost all large orchestras and with his brand, the world of the past is filled with life once again. With his Absolute Ensemble he created a chamber orchestra, which aimed not at razing walls but at mollifying them. Like Zawinul, Jarvi lived in Vienna for the majority of the year. So, it was unavoidable for the two to meet in their pursuit of a new sound language. However, when they began working together on their "Absolute Zawinul" album, nobody expected that this would be the last production of the 'forever young' pianist.
"I was looking for Joe in his Club Birdland in Vienna", recounts Jarvi, at the beginning of this unusual project. "I just came right out to him and said that I wanted to do a project together. He wanted to talk about it later. I had to insist strongly and convince him little by little that it was something serious. He knew of course that I was the conductor of the Tonkunstler Orchestra in Vienna, but he was not sure if I would be the right person for this job. One of my first questions was whether he wanted to perform some of the Weather Report pieces, which he abruptly dismissed. He preferred to play new pieces, which reflected his musical state of mind at that time. Gene Pritsker, the guitarist of Absolut, who himself is a great composer, flew frequently to Malibu in order to play the arrangements together with Joe. So these are in a way also Joe's arrangements."
It sounds like a quite ordinary work process. But when you listen to this album, you quickly realize that in this case it is not quite so. It is not one of those agonising jazz-meets-classical-music experiments , which we could tick off, knowing what the author is trying to tell us. "Absolute Zawinul" unloads a multi-traditional groove of fireworks that far surpass the common horizon of jazz and classical music. The feeling of unbound spontaneity that is not usually expected from a chamber band trained to play classical pieces is not the only impressive thing about it. "With Absolute we did not want to create an ensemble", Jarvi explains the philosophy of his band, "It just warms you up, what all other chamber ensembles do as well. We have all studied at the conservatory - just like Joe - and we wanted not only to be given to the complete, spontaneous access to music, just like rock, folk or jazz musicians, but also to get back to the roots of classical music. Certainly, in classical music we can find the greatest improvisers of all times. Composers like Haydn, Beethoven or Mozart are inviolable, but these artists were the protagonists of music, which is supposed to move people."
Joe Zawinul provided a model for this basic approach. The composer and the orchestra blend together to such an extent that the impression is seamless to the audience, the album is a combination of the perfect work of Zainwul and the purebred interpretation of the Absolute Ensembles. "I love the music of Joe Zawinul", confesses Jarvi openly. "He brought out the best in us, not only because of the love and respect that we all have for this man. For us it was hugely exciting to see how much passion and commitment he gave to this project after so many years of playing music. He seemed younger and placed his interests completely in the exploration and exploitation of new sounds. This inner fire transmitted to us. We have reached the same frequency. He wanted to hear his own music in a way that was never played before. Everyone knows he is a great improviser and pianist, but as a composer he is yet to receive due acknowledgment. This time he wanted to present himself as a composer. It is as if we remembered Beethoven as a great pianist, but we would not appreciate his compositions. We want to carry the music of this great composer into the world and hope that other musicians will join us."
There have already been many approaches to the realms of jazz and classical music. The more planned they are, the more detached from reality. Just recall the Third Stream that sounded as a sculptured intellectual pamphlet. Jazz remained jazz with classical music. Even in the later attempts there was no renunciation of the worn-out stylistic measures. However, in "Absolute Zawinul" the musical socialization of all members does not play a role any longer. "We can obviously name everything" laughs Jarvi, "but for me it is not important to name things, but to be moved by the music. The music has to penetrate into the roots of the soul. This should evoke passion and identification, which is possible in many genres. Classical music has incredible power, but so does rock, jazz and folk music. Joe was the personification of this attitude."
To present Joe Zawinul's artistic personality as a simple formula, is as difficult as ranking "Absolute Zawinul" among all his works. Certainly, it is the final point of his creation, because he died shortly after finishing this production. However, he did not aim to review his life trajectory, but rather to emphasize his beliefs. His tireless spirit under the woolly cap could not just lean back self-satisfied. "For him it was not about music", says Jarvi, "but about the question of how the external world has been reflected in his music. He explored his filters relentlessly; he was rendering his experiences, knowledge and understanding. He often talked to me about boxing and compared his whole life to this discipline of sport. Hitting was an important aspect for him. He was a fighter that would never surrender, that would never lament, but that would keep on the move and attack until his last breath. Three days before his death, he called me and said that he would come to our concert. I said "Great!". That was the last time we spoke."
During the last years of his life, Joe Zawinul was concerned about his life after death. He intentionally recorded pieces, which were to be published after his death, in order to remain alive. Even If he did not become immortal with his countless milestones in the history of jazz, he would be remembered by the memorial of his work with Kristjan Jarvi and the Absolute Ensemble - a memorial that brings jazz musicians into the exclusive moment ad absurdum. "Absolute Zawinul" is no less than the last chord of one of the grandiose musical biographies of the 20th century.