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The Zawinul Syndicate

Zawinul is one of a handful of synthesizer players who actually learned how to play the instrument, to exploit its unique expressive colors and to swing uninhibitedly with it. The most vivid impression in a small club setting is the feeling of control and Zawinul's mastery of electronic possibilities.

Zawinul is one of a handful of synthesizer players who actually learned how to play the instrument, to exploit its unique expressive colors and to swing uninhibitedly with it. The most vivid impression in a small club setting is the feeling of control and Zawinul’s mastery of electronic possibilities.

He could smoothly segue in and out of samples of sound effects; float sustained, cathedral-like waves of electronic sound; add spare yet madly swinging solo lines in precisely the right locations. His band could explore every angle of a single, catchy guitar riff on one chord, with subtle details and extreme dynamic changes that get lost in large halls. And lest one get the idea that Joe has abandoned chord structures completely, he’ll throw in a gorgeously complex ballad, raising a soaring, soprano saxlike lead line from his synth.

The current Syndicate, with ringer Alex Acuna sitting in on percussion on a day’s notice, is, if anything, even more adept at the art of rhythmic interplay than previous editions. At their peak, they were able to deliver a depth charge of stomping energy on the second chorus of Duke Ellington’s “Rockin’ in Rhythm” that got the whole room vibrating.

The Zawinul Syndicate

(Catalina Bar and Grill, 105 seats, $ 16 top)

Production: Presented by Catalina Bar and Grill. Band: Joe Zawinul, Gary Poulson, Matthew Garrison, Alex Acuna, Paco Sery. Reviewed Jan. 16, 1996. Like the boxers he avidly follows, Joe Zawinul came out swinging with the latest edition of his Third World-slanted Syndicate at Catalina's. Nothing new there, but that's good news as the Zawinul swinging machine still gets the juices flowing and the body moving like few others. Zawinul has been absent from the record scene since 1992's "Lost Tribes" (Columbia). A new album is due out in April on a new label (Island), and one imagines that it will continue to explore the essence of the endless groove.

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