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As members of Tribal Tech, the most potent and pyrotechnic fusion band of the 1990s, keyboardist Scott Kinsey and guitarist Scott Henderson blazed through six inventive albums together, flaunting an adventurous jam-to-tape approach both in the studio and on live gigs. The two subsequently went their separate ways — Henderson appearing in more stripped-down trio settings with Vital Tech Tones (bassist Victor Wooten and drummer Steve Smith), HBC (bassist Jeff Berlin and drummer Dennis Chambers) and in a series of blues-tinged projects; Kinsey playing with Uncle Moe’s Space Ranch (guitarists Brett Garsed and T.J. Helmerich, drummer Chambers and Tribal Tech bassist Gary Willis) and the pan-global fusion band Human Element (bassist Matthew Garrison, drummer Gary Novak, percussionist-vocalist Arto Tuncboyaciyan).
Their recent recordings reveal the two kindred spirits going in divergent directions — Kinsey paying homage to Weather Report synth maestro and mentor Joe Zawinul on We Speak Luniwaz (Whirlwind Recordings); Henderson exploring a wide harmonic palette and an array of guitar tones on his wildly eclectic, self-produced trio outing People Mover, featuring the versatile French rhythm tandem of electric bassist Romain Labaye and drummer Archibald Ligonniere.
Henderson, who credits Zawinul as an important early influence (evident on Tribal Tech recordings like 1985’s Spears or 1990’s Nomad), actually played sideman to the late, great synth wiz in the Zawinul Syndicate, appearing on 1988’s The Immigrants and 1989’s Black Water. On People Mover, he seamlessly blends jazz, rock, funk and blues, nodding more to the influences of guitarists Allan Holdsworth, John McLaughlin and John Scofield along the way than to Zawinul.
On We Speak Luniwaz, Kinsey brings his singular keyboard expertise to bear on re-imaginings of seven Zawinul compositions and two impressionistic originals. Along with electric bassist Hadrien Feraud, saxophonist-flutist Katisse Buckingham, drummer Gergö Borlai and a bevy of special guests, including former Weather Reporter Bobby Thomas Jr. and former Zawinul Syndicate members Arto Tuncboyaciyan and Michael Baker, Kinsey and his stellar crew generate crackling intensity and percolating grooves on Zawinul compositions like “The Harvest” (1986’s Dialects), “Victims of the Groove” (1992’s Lost Tribes), “Fast City” (1980’s Night Passage) and “Between the Thighs” (1975’s Tale Spinnin’).
His take on the funky “Cucumber Slumber” (1974’s Mysterious Traveler) incorporates a spoken word segment entitled “World Citizen” that showcases Buckingham’s rapping skills. “I think we updated them in a nice way,” said Kinsey of the Zawinul originals that appear on We Speak Luniwaz. “We didn’t play anything straight down. We did some different things so it’s not like us trying to be them or trying to play like they did. We’re using the structure and the basic elements of the song and putting our own thing into it too.”
Kinsey explained that Zawinul was a hero of his since junior high school, when the Owosso, Michigan native had a Korg Joe Zawinul poster on his bedroom wall. “I just found his overall concept— improvising with synthesizers in a jazz context — to be totally unique. And I said, ‘OK, this is the guy! I have to check everything out I can from him.’” His initial encounters with Weather Report albums — first 1985’s Sportin’ Life, then 1980’s Night Passage — were revelatory. “I had heard other people play synthesizers but it just wasn’t as organic to me as the way that it felt when I heard Joe do it,” he recalled. “When he played, it was as if they were almost like breathing, living, unknown instruments that had a soul to them. It was so inspiring. And at first I had no clue how to do that, but little by little I kind of found my own way.”
Regarding his early infatuation with Zawinul’s music, Henderson said, “Well, there’s an expression: ‘Sooner or later you have to destroy your influences.’ It’s kind of true. As much as I love Joe, I don’t want to be Joe. You can’t help but be influenced by somebody as great as him, but I would say that I’m just as much influenced by Charles Mingus or Wayne Shorter or any of those other amazing writers as I am by Joe. But ultimately, you have to do your own thing.”
Throughout People Mover, Henderson presents a labyrinth of chord changes and rich voicings on tunes like “Transatlantic,” “Fawn,” the funk-laden “Primary Location,” the rock-fueled title track and the affecting jazz waltz “Blue Heron Boulevard.” He employs nearly 100 different effects pedals and sonic devices to enhance the tone of his Suhr guitars on most of the tracks. The lone swinger, “Satellite,” is the anomaly. “On that track I borrowed a D’Angelico hollow body guitar and play it just straight into a Fender amp with a touch of reverb.” He also employs a dobro for some haunting slide guitar on the moody, blues-tinged “Blood Moon.”
Of his eclectic penchant on People Mover, Henderson said, “Thank goodness I’m not on a label because they’d probably hate me. Labels like to pigeonhole you or they want the albums to be conformist in a way where all the tunes are kind of in a similar bag so they can market it. But to me, it’s really fun to have a jazz tune and a rock tune and a blues tune all on the same record. I like variety of it. And so do my fans.”