Austrian Syndicate…the phrase immediately brings to mind the best-known and most influential of all Austrians in jazz, Joe Zawinul. And yet David Helbock’s project is much more than just a homage to his compatriot. It is a return to the roots of fusion jazz and how things developed from then on. It is also a new direction stylistically for Helbock, who has harnessed a panoply of inspiration with a refreshing openness to new sounds from far and wide. As Helbock himself puts it: "This is close to my heart." Helbock has been able to enlist the best rhythm section in Austria for the Syndicate: Raphael Preuschl on bass and bass ukulele, drummer Herbert Pirker and percussionist Claudio Spieler. The quintet also has an American in it, one for whom becoming Austrian was a matter of choice: pianist Peter Madsen. This Austrian supergroup is also a place where Helbock’s stellar international guests shine brightly: Maria João, Fred Wesley, Dhafer Youssef, Alex Acuña and Lakecia Benjamin.
This band has a way of communicating energy, surprise, variety and – perhaps above all – fun. Helbock has a way of finding all kinds of outlandish sounds from his synthesisers and keyboard pads, and uses them to kick up sudden thunderstorms. But we also hear subtle jazz improvisation, irrepressible interplay, funk and Latin rhythms and no shortage of Afro-Caribbean flair. It’s all there right from the opener: "Money in the Pocket". Other tracks draw their inspiration from all kinds of intriguing places: dark mysteries from Vienna, Indian Konnakol chanting, King Crimson, acid jazz. Helbock has conjured up all kinds of different moods and vibes. The ending of the album requires something truly special and Helbock does not disappoint. Mozart's "Komm, lieber Mai", an innocent little song which later became a German folk melody, has been dressed up for a party with Cuban rhythms. Maria João is not just playful here, she even invites us briefly away from the party and into a trippy dream sequence. Like the rest of the album, such invitations are instantly and infinitely persuasive.
David Helbock's "Austrian Syndicate" welcomes the world into boundless fusion jazz with irresistible grooves. “Austrian Syndicate” might prove to be one of the feelgood – no, make that feel...GREAT! - albums of the year.