Absolute Ensemble

Released March 23, 2010

DownBeat Five-star Review

YouTube: https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_kYNwgpn5rAKGw-chPRy7NbGQv6gMcZ3_0

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/5aWKyQdTP00BBEtW4e7Igr?si=LM9vJcyAQEWF6HHEH2MZQA


“This is the last studio recording of legendary Joe Zawinul of Weather Report fame. It is a masterpiece and a must for any music fan.
Joe’s wish was that the Absolute Zawinul project be about the musician he had become, not the musician he was thirty-something years before. He was adamant that he did not want to hear more Birdland arrangements and Weather Report tunes. The collaboration was to explore some of the seven hundred-odd works Zawinul had composed but not yet realized. Joe did want to hear some of his favorite old tunes but in an entirely new way. Absolute arranger Gene Pritsker worked painstakingly to notate the complex and incomparably subtle improvisations Joe had laid down over the years.
Joe wished for the project to be arranged so that it could be played with or without him. Gene Pritsker did this so well that at one rehearsal Joe yelled out ‘You stole all of my solos, what am I gonna play now?’
Some of the most extraordinary music Joe Zawinul ever played were his introductions and after-thoughts laid down for this recording. In retrospect, they were Joe’s gift to us.”

Track Listing:

1. Bimoya 7:08

2. Sultan 9:23

3. Great Empire 4:31

4. Peace 8:10

5. Good Day 5:31

6. The Peasant 8:27

7. Ballad for Two Musicians 9:47

8. Ice Pick Willy 7:05


Joe Zawinul: composer, keyboards and vocoder

Kristjan Järvi: music director, conductor

Gene Pritsker: arranger

Vesselin Gellev: violin

Neela de Fonseka: violin

Eddie Venegas: violin

Gregor Huebner: violin

Edmundo Ramirez: viola

Michael Block: cello

Mat Fieldes: acoustic, electric bass

Jay Elfenbein: acoustic, electric bass

Hayley Melitta Reid: flute, piccolo

Keve Wilson: oboe, English Horn

Michiyo Suzuki: clarinet, saxophone

Marianne Gythfeldt: clarinet

Martin Kuuskmann: bassoon

Damian Primis: contrabassoon

Charles Porter: trumpet

Ann Ellsworth: horn

Michael Seltzer: trombone

Damien Bassman: drums, percussion

Pablo Rieppi: percussion

John Ostrowski: percussion

Matt Herskowitz: piano, keyboard

Gene Pritsker: electric guitar

Sabine Kabongo: vocals

Allegre Correa: guitar, vocals

Aziz Sahmaoui: percussion, vocals, gumbri

Jorge Bezerra: percussion

Paco Sery: drums, percussion, kalimba

Linley Marthe: electric bass

Recorded January – April, 2007, at Absolute Studios, New York, NY, and Hansahaus Studios, Bonn, Germany, except “Ice Pick Willy” recorded live September 2007, at Konzerthaus Vienna, Austria

Produced by Kristjan Järvi

Engineers: Patrick Derivaz, Franz Hackl & Gene Pritsker; Klaus Genuit; Anton Reininger

Editing & Mixing: Klaus Genuit
Mastering: Marko Schneider
Photos: Alessandro Albert, Pavel Antonov, Nancy Horowitz
Design: Axel Buechner


For fans of the late Joe Zawinul’s late-period music, Absolute Zawinul will surely satisfy. Over eight tracks, it brims with the same kind of energy that typified the keyboardist/composer/bandleader’s effervescent style as he came to embrace so-called world music idioms more and more. Perhaps the reason why the Absolute Ensemble’s Absolute Zawinul sounds so much like its inspiration is because he played a major role in this, his last studio recording. A tribute album, Absolute Zawinul is performed by Estonian-born conductor Kristjan Järvi’s aggregate, born in 1993 New York and known for its highly eclectic approaches to all things musical. The idea for the project was hatched in 2004 when Järvi met Zawinul; they ended up performing together as well. The design was to focus on the man and his music as they both existed then, not a greatest hits recreation stretching back to his Weather Report days and beyond. Indeed, Zawinul had more than a hand in its creation, a creation performed not just with the Ensemble but with members of Zawinul’s last Syndicate band. The music is incredibly varied, evoking musical stories from the titles alone but obviously more from the songs’ various incarnations. Arranged by Gene Pritsker with his notation of melodies and Zawinul improvisations, these songs come across as lively classical music, reflecting everything from the composer’s vivid, colorful imagination and musical world. “Bimoya”’s joyful bounce, the mysterious allusions with “Great Empire,” the soft lines of “Peace,” the mesmerizing counter lines with horns (and banjo) on the dervish-like “The Peasant,” the heartfelt, wistful electronics with slowly emerging orchestra with “Ballad For Two Musicians”—these are indications of the variety of moods and settings that can be heard on this disc. There are the familiar world-music rhythmic counterpoints, Zawinul’s vocoder/ wordless vocals, the blends that come from using both strings and synthesizers. Think of Absolute Zawinul, the group’s fourth release, as the broad pallete for Joe Zawinul’s music at the end of his life (his askedfor legacy), a fleshing out what was always there, it seemed, on a grand scale, intimated from the beginning every time he took to dabbling with this keyboard, and then that keyboard, and then yet another. Note: In addition to the music here, there’s an 11-minute documentary available on the making of the album.

John Ephland (DownBeat)