David Helbock, a versatile and accomplished Austrian pianist, has produced a new album called Austrian Syndicate that pays homage to his legendary keyboard compatriot, Joe Zawinul. This project reflects Helbock’s deep appreciation for Zawinul’s work and showcases his own impressive range of musical interests.
A Connection to Zawinul’s Legacy
Zawinul’s own Syndicate was a musical family where members were not just part of a band, but rather, a tightly-knit group. Helbock embraces this sense of interconnection by including his former teacher and long-time mentor, pianist Peter Madsen, in the project. The album is a celebration of their shared musical lineage.
A Fusion of Classic and Contemporary
The Austrian Syndicate album is rooted in archetypal jazz fusion, blending classic and contemporary elements seamlessly. For example, “Ballad for Schönenbach” could comfortably fit alongside Weather Report’s 1977 classic Heavy Weather. Helbock’s Vangelis-style synths elegantly intertwine with Madsen’s piano lines, giving the listener a sense of continuity rather than mere imitation.
Guest Artists Galore
Helbock has assembled an impressive roster of guest artists for this project, including funk trombonist extraordinaire Fred Wesley. At 80 years old, Wesley still plays with unmatched groove and pocket, as evidenced by his solo on “Crimson Woman.”
The album also explores various musical styles, such as on “Nuyorican,” where synth melodies and piano montunos interplay while Raphael Preuschl’s bass, Herbert Pirker’s drums, and Claudio Spieler’s percussion dive into Puerto Rican rhythms with flair.
A Sincere Celebration of Musical Diversity
While some elements of the album may be more successful than others, the overall impression is one of sincerity and technical mastery. The closing arrangement of Mozart’s “Komm, lieber Mai und mache…”, featuring Maria Joao, may sound unconventional, but Helbock’s willingness to take risks demonstrates his commitment to creative expression.
Austrian Syndicate is a heartfelt project that avoids any narrowness of aesthetic, celebrating the breadth and depth of both Helbock’s and Zawinul’s musical legacies.