Miroslav Vitous Group: s/t (ECM 1185)

 

Miroslav Vitous Group

Miroslav Vitous bass
John Surman soprano and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet
Kenny Kirkland piano
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded July 1980 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

This grouping finds Miroslav Vitous in the company of fine musicians, whose idiosyncratic strengths manage to avoid conflict for an unusually engaging, if inconsistent, set. The Czech bassist’s opening tune, “When Face Gets Pale” grasps the tail of a strong melodic serpent, riding through tall grasses and intermittent sunlight. Along with the lively, Arild Andersen-like lead, we are treated to the animations of Kenny Kirkland at the keys—a sound so burnished that the squeal into being of John Surman’s baritone becomes a rupture to be cherished. A fine place to start. Yet unlike many ECM albums, which begin enigmatically before launching into more patently composed material, this is the other half of that swinging door, starting with a full-on group-oriented sound and unraveling itself inside the freer improvisational architecture of “Second Meeting” (and, later, of “Interplay”). Here, bass clarinet is front and center and plays patty-cake with the rhythm section amid some bubbling pianism. Of the latter, we get more in the Kirkland original, “Inner Peace.” Between bass volleys and fluid gestures, Surman’s throaty baritone again paints its corroded beauty across the sky. Everything Surman touches is beautified, and in his one compositional contribution, “Number Six,” we find the album’s most enchanting cartographies. His soprano grabs hold and never lets go for the duration of its wailing journey, while also giving Kirkland plenty of bounce for a swan dive. Vitous, meanwhile, shows just how nimble he can be in “Gears,” while in “Eagle” his classical training comes forth in fluid arco lines.

Though seemingly at odds with critics, and understandably so for its few false steps, this out-of-printer is still solid. By no means essential, but neither one to pass up should the opportunity present itself.

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