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

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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.