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  • Jonathan Widran

DAVID HELBOCK, Austrian Syndicate

Smack dab in the middle of Austrian Syndicate, a truly otherworldly aural experience conceived by keyboardist/composer David Helbock that harkens back to the 70s fusion era but with numerous modern and surreal globally conscious twists, is a wildly trippy song whose title (“Adventure”) severely and ironically understates the prowess of this innovative ensemble (featuring special international guests) and the breakneck pace of the culturally diverse magic they create from track to track.

In addition to the obvious influence of the late fusion legend (and fellow Austrian) Josef Zawinul, the many mood swings and flights of fancy are grounded in and driven by the unique creative relationship between Helbock and veteran pianist Peter Madsen, a former teacher and mentor and now a close friend and collaborator.

The tradeoffs between Helbeck’s Rhodes and vast arsenal of synth sounds and Madsen’s funky swing and spirited improvisations are a marvel to hear throughout as the boisterous, high energy five-piece syndicate takes us from the furious Latin dancing of “Nuyorican” and the sizzling Indian Konnakol chanting and spacey synth bounce of “Grundbi ra dance” to their blazing, rhythmically eclectic trail through the Zawinul barnburner “Money in the Pocket” (which as the opener, sets the pace for things to come.

Beyond the freewheeling skyward controlled madness – best typified by the soaring, exotic “The Third Man,” featuring the exciting vocal coloring of Tunisian artist Dhafer Youssef, there are a few special moments of prayerful contemplation, including “Hymn to Vienna” (also featuring Youssef) and the mystical excursion “We Need Some Help Down Here.”

The set closes on a cheerful note, with guest Portuguese jazz singer Maria João bringing a childlike charm to a triumphant take on Mozart’s “Komm, Lieber Mai und mache.” Another important element on the project is having the inimitable Alex Acuna on percussion, creating not only organic rhythmic fire but also (as a late 70s member of Weather Report) an important through line back to Zawinul.


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