JJ 09/90: The Zawinul Syndicate, London Town & Country Club

Thirty years ago, Mark Gilbert concurred with Gerald Veasley's idea that the Zawinul Syndicate was jazz. First published in Jazz Journal, September 1990

The Zawinul Syndicate, with Gerald Veasley and Scott Henderson

‘Is this jazz, or what?’ demanded the ebul­lient bassist Gerald Veasley as the five piece Zawinul Syndicate closed its second set with a tightly arranged and choreog­raphed revision of James Brown’s Sex Machine.

The waspish reply might be ‘probably not’, but then again, in a show which was 9/10ths improvised and seemed to thrive on spontaneous programming, it was easy to concede ‘why not?’.

We had heard jazz licks — and r’n’b licks — in abundance from Scott Henderson, whose compendious amalgam of guitar styles suggested everything from Jimmy Page to Holdsworth to Scofield; we had heard Little Rootie Tootie, albeit at a heavy metal gait; and we had heard guru Zawinul’s voluminous European sensibility filtered through the Afro-American tradition.

It was all close enough for jazz – this was 1990, after all – and rendered Veasley’s question entirely rhetorical. Certainly it must have seemed so to the crowd which came to dance.