Miroslav Vitous: Universal Syncopations II (ECM 2013)

Universal Syncopations II

Miroslav Vitous
Universal Syncopations II

Bob Mintzer tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
Gary Campbell soprano and tenor saxophones
Bob Malach tenor saxophone
Randy Brecker trumpet
Daniele di Bonaventura bandoneón
Vesna Vasko-Caceres voice
Gerald Cleaver drums
Adam Nussbaum drums
Miroslav Vitous double-bass
Recorded November 2004-April 2005 at Universal Syncopation Studios (Italy) by Miroslav Vitous
Assistant mixing engineer: Andrea Luciano
Produced by Miroslav Vitous

Bassist-composer Miroslav Vitous dove headlong into Universal Syncopations II after the success of its predecessor, but required a handful of years to see the light of day on disc. Fronting (or is he centering?) a newly fashioned ensemble, Vitous exercises full creative control over the project, interlacing ribbons from his unique library of orchestral and choral samples into an already thick weave of live players.

The end effect takes some getting used to in the beginning, if only because it is so innovative and unusual. “Opera” opens with the din of a concert hall crowd that gathers like magnified sunlight into an awakening chant. From this emerges Vitous’s pliant and jovial bassing, which darts through its motivic surroundings like a squirrel from branch to branch. Drummer Adam Nussbaum keeps the core alive alongside hip tenor action from Bob Mintzer, while the muted trumpet of Randy Brecker crowns the mountain like a setting sun. There is chatter and laughter, a true feeling of context in an almost ritualistic tapestry of sounds.This is but the preamble for what the album has in store, and with “Breakthrough” shuffles the musicians a bit for some trend-setting flavor. Echoes of the Doctor Who theme arise in the soprano saxophone of Gary Campbell, who takes the melodic lead but leaves plenty of room for drummer Gerald Cleaver to squeegee the windows with his grist. Vitous, too, is busy, if humbly backgrounded in the denser portions.

Because of the many acoustic interests at play, certain portions of the album are more successful than others. It’s not that the mélange is unviable, but simply that the musicianship is so raw and immediate that the relatively processed interjections of strings, brass, and choir are by and large unnecessary, intriguing though they are. Thus, where such snippets feel extraneous to the crosstalk between Vitous and Campbell’s tenor in “The Prayer,” in “Gmoong” and “Universal Evolution” the combination clicks into place.

What this album may lack in consistency of arrangement it makes up for in spades with the musicianship, especially that of Cleaver. The drummer might as well be the “Solar Giant” to which the same track refers. Whether keeping the pulse through firewalls of horns or walking in the splash-steps of “Mediterranean Love,” he adapts with an intuitive, chameleonic energy, ever the epitome of balance between fore- and background, a direct link to what the album is trying to spiritually express.

“Moment” ends on a quiet storm, Vitous rolling the bass like a coin across a gunslinger’s fingers. Voices speak as if walking and dissolve at the touch of a single timpani hit. In its wake, one may be at odds trying to draw a connection between the two Syncopations. Which is precisely, it seems, the point: change is evolution. Surely, the art of this sequel deepens with each listening experience into something beyond itself, for experience is what it’s all about.

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