Miroslav Vitous: Music of Weather Report (ECM 2364)

Music of Weather Report

Miroslav Vitous
Music of Weather Report

Miroslav Vitous double bass, keyboards
Gary Campbell soprano and tenor saxophones
Roberto Bonisolo soprano and tenor saxophones
Aydin Esen keyboards
Gerald Cleaver drums
Nasheet Waits drums
Recording producer and engineer: Miroslav Vitous
Recorded March and May 2010, February and March 2011 at Universal Syncopations Studios
Assistant engineer: Andrea Luciano
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: June 10, 2016

The bass of Miroslav Vitous has been a hub of creative activity since making its ECM debut on 1979’s collaboration with Terje Rypdal and Jack DeJohnette. In the intervening six years since leaving Weather Report, he had deepened his voice on the instrument, taking his arco dialects into more fluent directions than ever. Unlike its soft companion, Remembering Weather Report, which evoked the feel of his seminal band, this latest redux dives headlong into the cofounder’s originals that made Weather Report shine. Fascinating not only for its audacity, but also for its assembly, it pairs drummers Gerald Cleaver, occupying the left channel with saxophonist Gary Campbell, and Nasheet Waits, occupying the right with saxophonist Roberto Bonisolo. Rounded by Turkish keyboardist Aydin Esen, the sound is best realized on the tune “Seventh Arrow,” in which both sides of this improvisationally free equation flip on a glowing equals sign. Along with “Morning Lake,” which unleashes a quiet army of melodic water skeeters, it references Weather Report’s very first album from 1971 on Columbia.

The music of Joe Zawinul is a touchstone of the program, which opens with “Scarlet Woman Variations” in a necklace of reiterations as threaded by an electronically enhanced Vitous and the clarion sopranism of Campbell. In that same spirit the sextet takes on a reshuffled “Birdland Variations,” wherein joy abounds. Like the two “Multi Dimension Blues” of Vitous sandwiching it, it finds beauty behind closed eyes and open hands. Best described in Vitous’s own words as “two galaxies or universes pulling and affecting each other,” the two tandems therein create more than they replace. Esen’s atmospheric touches in “Birdland” evoke more of the same, only now with a more nostalgic feel that’s still fresh as a sunrise. Wayne Shorter’s “Pinocchio” gets an even freer treatment that traces the present band’s luminescence with astronomical precision.

In “Acrobat Issues,” Vitous rebinds an old book with burnished leather, leaving the gold stamping to the dialoguing tenors and the final stitching to his drummers. Hearing their interplay so beautifully recorded will give those familiar with Weather Report much to celebrate, while to those not it will serve as the eyepiece of a time-honored microscope looking in on a watershed moment of jazz history.

Miroslav Vitous: Ziljabu Nights

Ziljabu Nights

Ziljabu Nights is an emotional black box recovered from the wreckage of a bygone era and brought intact into ours. Recorded live in June of 2016 at Germany’s Theater Gütersloh, it features saxophonists Gary Campbell and Robert Bonisolo, keyboardist Aydin Esen and drummer Roberto Gatto. Leading them all in a program of mostly original compositions is legendary bassist Miroslav Vitous, whose experiential integrities shine among those of like-minded maestros.

The performance documented here is at once nostalgic and spontaneous. Vitous, who turns 70 this month, and his musicians inhabit their respective continents, yet on stage forge a veritable Pangea of sound. “Ziljabu” eases us into the album’s tender awakenings with a mélange of keyboards and flanged bassing. Its fusion-leaning tendencies recall certain landmark ECM albums from the 1980s, not least of all the bassist’s own for the label. A one-letter difference in the title of “Ziljabe” yields an equally subtle shift in tone. A subtle maturity percolates throughout the 17-minute “Morning Lake.” It unfolds with patient respect, under cover of which Bonisolo’s sopranism provides the aerial view to Campbell’s terrestrial excavations, while in “Miro Bop” the reeds play out a dancing exchange of tenors, both feet on the ground.

Vitous pays homage to late fellow bassist Scott LaFaro in an unaccompanied rendition of “Gloria’s Step Variations.” What seems relatively straightforward on the surface, however, reveals a depth-charge of interpretation, with equal parts muscularity and flexibility woven into its fuse. The same holds true of “Stella By Starlight Variations,” wherein the band sends love to the periphery as Esen takes solo flight at the center of it all.

The album finishes off with an interview, in which Vitous speaks a little to his history as an artist, his growth out of the initial iteration of fusion giants Weather Report and the blessedness of his musical life. “It’s not so much searching,” he says of his rapport with this band. “Basically, we hear it.” And it’s all we can do in return to appreciate that which has been heard.

(This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Miroslav Vitous Group w/Michel Portal: Remembering Weather Report (ECM 2073)

Remembering Weather Report

Miroslav Vitous Group
Remembering Weather Report

Miroslav Vitous double-bass
Franco Ambrosetti trumpet
Gary Campbell tenor saxophone
Gerald Cleaver drums
Michel Portal bass clarinet
Recorded fall 2006 and spring 2007 at Universal Syncopation Studios
Recording producer and engineer: Miroslav Vitous
Assistant engineer: Andrea Luciano
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

After the challenging yet ultimately rewarding experimentalism of Universal Syncopations II, Remembering Weather Report comes as a breath of fresh air for bassist Miroslav Vitous, who preens previously undetected feathers in this warped look back. Indeed, similarities to the titular fusion band with which Vitous once played (and which he co-founded with Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul) are glancing at best. Here that original band’s fiercely democratic approach takes on new hues as individual instruments click through the front line like a roulette of alter egos in the form of Americans Gerald Cleaver on drums and Gary Campbell on tenor, and Swiss trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti.

In addition, French clarinetist and new music advocate Michel Porter joins the quartet on half of the album’s six hefty tunes. His involvement unleashes the firmest successes thereof, as in an aching set of variations on Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” (the only track not from the bandleader’s pen) and “Surfing With Michel,” a spirited duet between Vitous and Porter that is the missing capstone to the core quartet’s great pyramid. Another set of variations on Wayne Shorter material finds the bassist shuffling between arco and pizzicato modes, all the while navigating a flurry of drums with a papercutter’s feel for negative space. A surreal and frenetic sense of control reigns, skipping with assurance.

The tripartite “Semina” is Vitous at his most honest, although this time Cleaver divulges heart and soul, inciting as he does calligraphic brilliance from Campbell and, in the concluding “Blues Report,” a swift kick to the stratosphere, where soars the album’s pièce de résistance, “When Dvořák Meets Miles.” Fine arco playing connects blats of muted trumpet, and all with a percussive finish that lingers sweetly on the palate. As ever, the interactions are subtle yet naked, each element brimming with snap, crackle, and pop.

Remembering Weather Report is not for the jazz tourist. Its highly evolved messages comprise a raw manifesto on what it means to be progressive in a regressive climate. Motifs run the gamut from static to ballistic, but quickly dissolve in favor of broader improvisational paths, each a vein to some distant thematic artery. The album is further notable for being recorded in Vitous’s own Italian studio. His direct involvement in not only the elicitation but also the rendering of these sounds lends remarkable immediacy to the space in which they unfold.

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.

Miroslav Vitous: Universal Syncopations (ECM 1863)

Universal Syncopations

Miroslav Vitous
Universal Syncopations

Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones
Chick Corea piano
John McLaughlin guitar
Miroslav Vitous double-bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Isaac Smith trombone (tracks 2 to 4)
Wayne Bergeron trumpet (tracks 2 to 4)
Valery Ponomarev trumpet, flugelhorn (tracks 2 to 4)
Recorded at Universal Syncopation and Rainbow Studios, Oslo
Edited and mixed March 2003 by Miroslav Vitous, Manfred Eicher, and Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Miroslav Vitous

Miroslav Vitous’s Universal Syncopations is an ode to many things. To the late 60s, when he laid down the seminal album Infinite Search with guitarist John McLaughlin and drummer Jack DeJohnette, both featured on the present disc. To the purity of improvisation as a game of thrones over which melodic integrity forever reigns. To the joys of making music in fine company. Indeed, the Czech bassist could hardly ask for better session mates with whom to share the infinite search that is jazz. To that end, he is further joined by pianist Chick Corea and saxophonist Jan Garbarek, the latter of whom produces some of his liveliest playing yet. For ECM fans, it should be especially poignant to hear Garbarek and DeJohnette reunited in the studio, a planetary alignment not heard on the label since 1982’s Voice from the Past – PARADIGM.

Although Vitous has never been one for predictability, he is a poster child for reliability. One catch of “Bamboo Forest,” and it’s obvious: he is a musician’s musician, whose muscling ranges from powerful to miniscule (note, for example, his acrobatics in the penultimate track, “Medium”). Spurred along by a Brazilian vibe, the joyous sweep of this album opener finds Garbarek ticking off a smooth list of errands, adding depth to the gloss with every lick of his reed. And really, it’s the Vitous-Garbarek-DeJohnette nexus that holds the molecule together throughout, flexing with especial limberness in “Univoyage.” Here DeJohnette holds down the fort while the rest flit about with all the freedom of the world at their wingtips. McLaughlin and Corea provide spectral flashes in the brightness of their playing, painting the stardust to Garbarek’s eagle-eyed navigation. The swanky “Tramp Blues” finds the same trio walking a tightrope of expression toward more playful destinations.

Other configurations, however, do arise organically from the mix. There is the bass-drums-guitar grouping of “Faith Run,” which deposits DeJohnette’s propulsion at the center of it all, now gilded by McLaughlin’s sparkling ringlets (it’s also the last of three tracks featuring light brass accompaniment). Yet another coloration introduces itself in “Sun Flower,” which brings Corea back into the mix alongside the dynamic rhythm section. Pianist, drummer, and bassist dance and divine by turns, Garbarek hanging low to bring earthier hues to canvas. Corea hangs around for “Miro Bop.” This swinging piece of prosody lights its fair share of fireworks from DeJohnette, while Garbarek again proves his chops and strategic deployment as a jazzman. The saxophonist joins Vitous in “Beethoven,” a slick lesson in translation with DeJohnette acting as interpreter. What goes around comes around as “Brazil Waves” ends the album in the same vein with which it began: an atmospheric ride through surging beats and melodic treats.

Universal Syncopations is a tapestry of sound woven by steady, practiced hands. Each musician knows when to make way for another’s pass of thread and to contribute his own color when appropriate. The overall effect is unanimous and gifts us with a chunk of unforgettable, life-affirming jazz, its heart in all the right places.

Miroslav Vitous/Jan Garbarek: Atmos (ECM 1475)

 

Miroslav Vitous
Atmos

Miroslav Vitous double-bass
Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones
Recorded February 1992 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

For me, Jan Garbarek excels in his more intimate and intensely collaborative settings, and this date with Miroslav Vitous makes for some fine synergy indeed. Vitous takes light steps, if with heavy intent, through the introductory “Pegasos.” Garbarek, meanwhile, is content in hanging his throaty songs from high rafters. Like its eponymous animal, this music and all that follows is a mythic blend of strength and finesse, joining feathery appendages to a robust body that soars wherever it may. “Goddess” treads more carefully and seems to regress even as it grows, achieving a balance of proportion between body and mind, transcending the plains even as it plants its feet to the earth’s core. Vitous elicits some lovely percussiveness here, drumming his bass to send Garbarek on a lyrical scouting journey. The rhythmic ruminations continue in “Forthcoming,” giving the saxophonist all the inspiration he needs to dig deep and pluck out the ponderous jewel that is the title track. Here we encounter some beautiful thoughts from soprano, threading the ever-growing loom of Vitous’s strings. A captivating track that takes a delicate swing of its melodic compass into a direction of utter stillness. Unfortunately, “Time Out” (Parts I and II) detracts from the album’s tender atmosphere. Its horn-blasted interjections are grossly out of place. In between them, however, is “Dirvision,” a heart-tugging solo from Vitous that precludes two meditative numbers to close.

All in all, despite a brief misstep, a fascinating and worthy excursion from two far-reaching talents. How fortuitous to have them both here, telling stories timeless and sincere.

Garbarek/Vitous/Erskine: StAR (ECM 1444)

 

StAR

Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones
Miroslav Vitous double-bass
Peter Erskine drums
Recorded January 1991 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

StAR is yet another classic from a fertile period for Jan Garbarek. Clothed in some of Barbara Wojirsch’s most striking typography, it holds an intimate portrait of one of ECM’s profoundest artists. Characteristic trails fade in the title track like infant spiders’ webs as bassist Miroslav Vitous dances a solemn dance. Garbarek unlocks a doorway in the sky, where the only keyhole is a star, before teleporting back to earth to find his roots in “Jumper.” The scatting syncopation here draws us into a vocal world. “Lamenting” begins with a keen from Garbarek and Vitous filled with such beauty that every tear in its vision changes into hopeful light, sketched into life by Erskine’s pastel accents and Garbarek’s distinctly burnished tenor. From scintinllating beginnings, “Anthem” purrs with snare rolls from Erskine, backgrounding a celestial wash. “Roses For You” takes its first timid steps widely and innocently in the bass, Garbarek again showing unique sensitivity, born of attention and experience. He flips slowly through an album of love and loss in equal measure, cradling it in a hand smooth with youth and turning pages with fingers wrinkled with age. “Clouds In The Mountain” brings us to the album’s most spirited territory, fluttering like eyelashes into the sun’s glare. “Snowman,” on the other hand, is a dose of wintry whimsy, cracked like an egg by some mystical overdubbing. “The Music Of My People” ends with a lovely homage to the inspirations of a saxophonist who has done so much to expand the art from the sea into the fjords, and beyond.

Miroslav Vitous: Emergence (ECM 1312)

 

Miroslav Vitous
Emergence

Miroslav Vitous bass
Recorded September 1985 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Although Miroslav Ladislav Vitouš has had varying levels of success in the post-Weather Report years as bandleader, we can hardly help but marvel at this gem of a solo recording. With nary an overdub in sight and more than enough heart to spare, the Czech bassist plots an orchestral sweep through his precisely (at)tuned skills. Like the caron that disappeared from the end of his name before going international, it is a valley of possibility, and he our shepherd through its gallery of songs and tales. All the more appropriate, then, that we begin with “Epilogue,” for it is a lasting look back at what is to follow. There is much to experience in this piece: a deep memory, intimations of a dance, the infused colors of a dream. Vitous carves from this chunk of maple the balsa-like delicacies of “Transformation.” There is indeed a metamorphosis in its lovely arco lines: from the internal to the external, from the thought to the spoken. Yet all of this is but a prelude to the four-part Atlantis Suite, of which the third movement (“The Choice”) is one of the most beautiful on the album. It flexes like a hand wafting smoke into our interpretive memories, and holds a flock of harmonics in its nets. From this, rays of light open into further transformations I can only liken to the shift from a voiceless to voiced consonant. Here, the mythical continent has not been torn asunder by inexplicable cataclysm. Rather, Vitous unravels its legacy in reverse, back to its golden age. “Wheel Of Fortune” similarly turns the passage of time into a visage of understanding, running through a field of prismatic colors into the abstract whirlwind-cum-groove that is “Regards To Gershwin’s Honeyman.” Vitous shows his sense of humor in the spirited “Alice In Wonderland,” which has something of the elusive rabbit’s mockery, then turns to subtler invigorations in “Morning Lake For Ever.” This is a fantasy in sound, a cleansing of the palate before a nod to Sketches of Spain ends the set in the rainbow of dramatic statements.

The skill of commanding attention with only a bass lies in the ability to treat the instrument as both a self-contained unit and as a seed for unheard things. Vitous accomplishes just such a dynamic. Never once does he sound like a backup instrument in want of a band. Whenever his fingers way to bow, there is nothing but openness in every action. As Vitous says in his dedication, this is “music with no boundaries.”

Emergence delights in the ways it blends registers, drawing upon a wealth of joys with just the right touches of melancholy and cerebral edginess. Such a well thought-out session cannot help but earn a rightful place alongside Dave Holland’s Emerald Tears as a classic in its field. The album is also superbly recorded, enhancing the instrument’s natural resonance by placing us in its very ribcage, as it were. It feels like walking through a dream, for in its confines perspectives change with such fluidity that one hardly notices them as the whims of a human touch. And perhaps they are the most natural of all, guiding us into a world of perception where evaluations such as this are but feathers on a dying bird.

Miroslav Vitous: Journey’s End (ECM 1242)

 

Miroslav Vitous
Journey’s End

Miroslav Vitous bass
John Surman soprano and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet
John Taylor piano
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded July 1982 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Although bassist Miroslav Vitous never quite achieved the brilliance of his work with Weather Report, he did produce some intimations of it in the studio as he embarked on a solo career. Much of that old spark still flares on Journey’s End. “U Dunaje U Prešpurka,” in which he spins from a Czech folk song motif a cosmic sound with drummer Jon Christensen and reedman John Surman on bass clarinet, proves most fortuitous, as Surman builds enigmatic, freestanding structures atop constantly shifting tectonic plates. The quartet’s palette is broadened with the addition of John Taylor on keys, and under whose guidance the album’s titular journey really begins to take off. Christensen’s urgency carries across a deep flavor, only accentuated by its surroundings, and left to trace the piano’s tracks. “Only One” features its composer on electric bass, pairing nicely with Surman’s unmistakable baritone. Surman himself offers two tunes, flying high with his soprano in “Tess” before reprising the baritone in the sprightly “Paragraph Jay,” which also showcases Vitous’s dexterous versatility. We also get a vibrant group improvisation in “Carry On, No. 1” before Taylor closes us out with his soprano-led “Windfall.” This forward-thinking piece brings us full circle and finds in every turn of phrase the key to unlocking unknown futures. 

With sweeping brushwork the music on Journey’s End manages to be at once painterly and spontaneous, describing vast landscapes with but a flick of the sonic hairs. A lovely addition to any Vitous or Surman fan’s shelf.