Tribute To Joe Zawinul - Django Bates/Victor Bailey/BBC Big Band - Barbican, 25 Nov - LJF

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Joe Zawinul’s untimely death in September meant his scheduled collaboration with the BBC Big Band at the Barbican did not happen. However, the show went on with British keyboard player Django Bates stepping into the great man’s shoes, a fine choice given his similar talent of being able to extract organic sounds from synthesizers. Joining Bates and the Big Band was one of Zawinul’s most prolific collaborators, bassist Victor Bailey. MC’d by Julian Joseph with contributions from Zawinul biographer Brian Glasser, the evening was more than just a concert, serving as a superb tribute to the man and his music. Tribute To Joe Zawinul - Django Bates/Victor Bailey/BBC Big Band - Barbican, 25 Nov - LJF
Opening with the classic ‘Black Market’, Victor Bailey on bass and a supercharged Martin France on drums kicked up a fearsome groove, while Django Bates seemed to be enjoying every minute and certainly proving he was up to the momentous task of replacing Zawinul. Stan Sulzmann stepped up to the front to take the tenor solo, providing a good approximation of Wayne Shorter’s style, but the big band didn’t really get into the groove until the second number, a medley of ‘Badia’ and ‘Boogie Woogie Waltz’.

By the time of the burning ‘Fast City’ the big band were at the top of their game, playing complex passages without blinking, while recreating the intensity of the original Weather Report recording. Henry Lowther played a haunting flugelhorn solo on ‘In A Silent Way’, a poignant moment for many people in the audience. Django Bates’s contributions to the whole evening were excellent, with his keyboard sounds blending in with the big band contributions in the spirit of Joe’s final album with the NDR Big Band, ‘Brown Street’ which was superbly recreated at the Barbican both as a tribute to the immortal Joe Zawinul and a reminder of the vibrancy of his music.

Mark Trounson