Cannonball Adderley encouraged Joe Zawinul to write for his band, and was receptive to the progressive sounds that Zawinul came up with. The result was a musical partnership that was truly inspired. Needless to say, Adderley’s band recorded a large number of Zawinul compositions, and on Cannonball Plays Zawinul, the composer/pianist himself chooses the tunes to be included.
Joe Zawinul was Cannonball Adderley’s not-so-secret weapon. The Austrian-born keyboard player contributed solid straight-ahead piano work to Adderley’s best known and loved quintet recordings. In addition, Zawinul had talent as a composer and was one of the early adopters of the Fender Rhodes electric piano. He was also one of the most talented musicians to play the instrument. Along with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, Zawinul pretty much defined the sound of the Fender in jazz fusion and, by extension, in popular music in general.
Zawinul leads off with a thirteen-plus minute version of “74 Miles Away” from the album of the same name. With Nat Adderley on cornet and a rhythm section comprised of Victor Gaskin on bass and Roy McCurdy on drums, the band takes the listener on a sonic trip that is as fantastic as it is extravagant. Nat’s cornet solo is the calm after brother Julian’s storm, but his Arabic melodic figures add spice to his understated performance.
There are a broad variety of styles here, and that demonstrates the ability of Zawinul to adapt his ideas to various situations. For example, the gentle bossa nova “Mystified (aka Angel Face)” features bassist Richard Davis and drummer Grady Tate as well as an orchestra arranged and conducted by Oliver Nelson. It demonstrates how Cannonball’s sharp alto tone could cut through any arrangement and become the focal point of the listener’s attention.
“Money In the Pocket” is soul jazz plain and simple, complete with the kind of drum rhythms heard on James Brown’s early recordings. Adderley was expert at identifying the point where the average listener would focus in or space out, and would provide something to draw the listener’s attention back in at regular intervals. Nat Adderley plays a progressively heating solo, until he quotes the Bobby Timmons composition “Dis Here” to finish, only to have Cannonball pick up with that same phrase and proceed to increase the heat from there. Truly incendiary!
Zawinul is already showing an ability to draw elements from bebop and post-bop jazz and incorporate them into a newer, soul/funk-influenced piece. You hear elements of this in “One Man’s Dream” and “Hippodelphia”, even though both pieces largely present themselves as straight-ahead jazz tunes.
Rounding out the collection are a live rendition of “Yvette” that features Zawinul prominently on acoustic piano, “Mercy Mercy Mercy,” the Zawinul-penned hit song that featured the composer on the Fender Rhodes electric piano, and “NDO Lima” an African folk-tinged composition that features a full orchestra.
The final track is a lengthy go at “Dr. Honorus Causa,” a tribute to Herbie Hancock and a song that Zawinul would revisit with Weather Report. In fact, it provides a preview of what Weather Report would sound like, at least early on. This version, from the album The Black Messiah, features George Duke on the electric piano, and Adderley on soprano sax.
Cannonball Plays Zawinul is an outstanding record of the musical relationship between two men who had a profound influence on other musicians playing in the jazz/improvisational idiom. If you’ve already got all of these albums in your collection (quite possible if you’re a heavy Cannonball fan) then this may be superfluous, but overall I’d say it’s a welcome addition to Adderley’s catalog, a catalog that deserves all the exposure it can get.
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