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Published: 2008/06/20
by Mark Burnell

Joe Zawinul : A Musical Portrait

Arthaus Music

Joe Zawinul: A Musical Portrait is the DVD release of a Mark Kidel’s 2005 documentary, which first aired on the BBC. Zawinul was one of the foremost European performers in the history of jazz, and his four decades worth of music— from his outstanding piano playing in Cannonball Adderley’s band in the early 1960s through his sonic experiments as part of Miles Davis’ genre-smashing electric band of the early 1970s to his more mainstream success as a founder of Weather Report— form one very impressive legacy. This film almost takes us to the end of Zawinul’s story (he died less than three years after it was completed), and it attempts to show both the man’s Austrian roots and the ethnic music to which he became devoted in his later years.

Unfortunately, the music that fascinated Zawinul towards the end of his life is based around combining sampled sounds played via the keyboards with a curious West African/Latin hybrid, and while it is played with admirable enthusiasm by the young members of the Zawinul Syndicate, it’s really not all that interesting. Indeed, hearing “In A Silent Way" played by this band just makes me want to pull out the Davis album so I can hear how it should be played. While the documentary side of this feature is initially intriguing, it too ends up being dominated by Zawinul repeatedly demonstrating his passion for this new fangled sampling technique.

There is certainly some insightful footage of Zawinul wandering around Vienna and talking about his youth, and he comes across as both interesting and humble, but overall, this offering will only be of interest to fans of his later work.

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