On the international jazz front there’s good news and there’s bad news. First the good news.The imminent release of Herbie Hancock’s new album signals a summoning of some of the most potent forces in contemporary music – a summit of huge proportions and a reminder that though some of the key drivers of the art of jazz may be aging they are still creating quality music.The album River: The Joni Letters is a tribute (apart from two songs) to the magnificent body of work of Joni Mitchell. The core band on the record is Herbie on keyboards, sax genius Wayne Shorter, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Dave Holland and guitarist Lionel Loueke.
Joni Mitchell’s health has been a concern for her followers over the past few years. Her love affair with cigarettes, her consequent wrestling with asthma and her disdain for the mainstream music industry led her into seclusion and back to her other love- painting. Herbie Hancock himself waxes eloquent about Joni’s vocal ability on the  new album:“If she’s not a jazz singer, I don’t know who is. Her phrasing on “Tea Leaf Prophecy” is unbelievable.”It is significant that Wayne Shorter is so prominent on this project – and here’s the bad news – because this week saw the passing of one of the greats in modern jazz, Joe Zawinul. After his intense apprenticeship playing with Miles Davis on the tide turning album In A Silent Way and playing with Cannonball Adderley, Zawinul was Wayne Shorter’s colleague in Weather Report - perhaps the first fully pedigreed jazz fusion band. Merging jazz, rock and electronics Weather Report had amongst its luminous line ups the greatest fretless bass player in modern jazz – the late Jaco Pastorius. Although he spent most of his musical career in the US, Zawinul’s life began and ended in his home town of Vienna. He is regarded as one of Austria’s favourite sons. He had just come off a European summer tour when he was suddenly taken. On the tour he appeared to become more ill as the tour progressed and was led to the keyboards in a wheel chair by the end of the tour. From all accounts his keyboard playing still remained full of energy and invention. He was 75. Sadly too August saw the passing of one of the great drummers of jazz. Max Roach was a master percussionist whose rhythmic innovations and improvisations provided the dislocated beats that defined bebop jazz. Roach received his first musical break at age 16, filling in for threenights in 1940 when Duke Ellington's drummer fell ill. His performance led him to the legendary Minton's Playhouse in Harlem, where he joined luminaries Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the ground breaking bebop movement. What distinguished Roach from other drummers were his fast hands and hisability to simultaneously maintain several rhythms. By layering differentbeats and varying the meter, Roach pushed jazz beyond the boundaries ofstandard 4/4 time. Roach's innovative use of cymbals for melodic lines, and tom-toms and bassdrums for accents, helped elevate the percussionist from mere timekeeper tofeatured performer - on a par with the trumpeter and saxophonist. Throughout the jazz upheaval of the 1940s and '50s, Roach played bebop withthe Charlie Parker Quintet and cool bop with the Miles Davis CapitolOrchestra. He joined trumpeter Clifford Brown in playing hard bop, a jazzform that maintained bebop's rhythmic drive while incorporating the bluesand gospel. He died in New York. He was 83. The brilliant re-emergence of Hancock, Shorter and Mitchell coinciding with the passing of Zawinul and Roach suddenly puts a bright constellation of jazz stars in the vault; a reminder of the humbling body of work that the pioneers of jazz have developed for those of us who value the art form and respect the intellect and integrity of the jazz masters. Zawinul and Roach were intelligent, enlightened men. In memorial postings on websites this week Roach’s passing was described as a “transitioning” And on the Zawinul website Joe’s passing was described as “the end of (his) earth time and the beginning of eternity time”. Thankfully the music lives. No more Heavy Weather. It’s  jam time in Birdland for Jaco and Mr Gone.