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MIROSLAV VITOUS – MUSIC OF WEATHER REPORT / ECM 2364

Bassist Miroslav Vitous returns once more to the music of the band he co-founded at the beginning of the 1970s, re-evoking and expanding upon the highly improvisational methodology of the original Weather Report. On his earlier album Remembering Weather Report, he addressed the spirit of the old band; this time he directly addresses its repertoire.

Throughout the album Vitous leads an exceptional group, driven by two of contemporary jazz’s most creative drummers, Gerald Cleaver and Nasheet Waits, and it is intriguing to hear the ensemble turned loose on some of Weather Report’s best-known tunes, among them Joe Zawinul’s “Birdland”. Miroslav’s “Birdland Variations” reorders its sequence of themes and sets it free, rhythmically. As he explains, “One drummer plays in a 3/4 time feel while the other plays in 4/4 or free time. The combination creates a kind of tunnel, where one can play any phrase in any tempo, and it swings amazingly.” Vitous’s distinctive arco bass playing is often at the forefront of the music, offering “a hornlike lead” alongside the saxophones of Gary Campbell and Roberto Bonisolo.

“Scarlet Woman” takes Zawinul’s core melody and “extends, expands and harmonizes it in new ways. We kept the original form by repeating the original melody, and this modulates into a sort of bridge in F major, which opens the piece like coming through the mountains into a beautiful valley.”

Wayne Shorter’s tune “Pinocchio” appeared on Miles Davis’s 1967 recording Nefertiti and was revived for Weather Report’s 1978 album Mr Gone. Miroslav describes his new group’s approach to this much-played tune as “quite theatrical” and praises Turkish pianist Aydin Esen’s re-harmonization of the theme, after which “everyone solos and no one solos”, this being the characteristic hallmark of Weather Report’s spontaneous arranging-in-the-moment. “But there is more free expression in the music now than there was back then,” claims Miroslav.

Two of Vitous’s tunes from Weather Report’s debut album – “Seventh Arrow” and “Morning Lake” – are reprised here. “Seventh Arrow”, always a powerful piece, makes telling use of the independently-minded drummers. After an early climax, “it keeps floating with a typical Weather Report-like groove”, says the composer, who suggests that the “oriental motifs” which emerge here may be memories of WR’s famous Japanese trip (refer to Weather Report’s Live In Tokyo album of 1972). “Morning Lake” is a much-recorded impressionistic piece: a 1981 trio version with Terje Rypdal and Jack DeJohnette can be heard on the ECM album To Be Continued, and a variation for solo bass, “Morning Lake For Ever” on Miroslav’s Emergence. The present version concludes with a storm recorded in real time. “It was as if we called it to come with the music.”

Threaded between the Weather Report pieces are short compositions of atmospheric blues: “The main attraction here is the combination of the two tandems. For instance, saxophone and one drummer will be playing at fast tempo while me and the second drummer play in almost half-time shuffle feel. But the tempos are not mathematically even. They are like two different dimensions…or like two planets next to each other, or two galaxies or universes pulling and affecting each other.”

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Miroslav Vitous’s artistic path has been a singular one. Born 1947 in Prague, he had his first musical successes while in his early teens, playing in trio with Jan Hammer (piano) and Alan Vitous (drums). A scholarship to study at the Berklee College of Music brought him to the US, and by 1967 he was a central figure on the US scene playing with – amongst others – Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Stan Getz and Herbie Mann.

He was first heard on ECM in the 1970s leading his own band with John Surman, Jon Christensen, and Kenny Kirkland. In the 1980s he recorded for the label as a member of Chick Corea’s trio with Roy Haynes (“Trio Music”, “Live in Europe”) and issued a dazzling solo bass album (1985’s “Emergence”). In the 1990s he was heard with Jan Garbarek in duo and trio contexts (“Atmos”, “Star”). After a hiatus during which the bassist was developing and marketing his highly successful symphonic orchestra samples software, he returned to ECM for two volumes of “Universal Syncopations” (2003 and 2007) – both of which were critical and popular successes. “Universal Syncopations II” won the ‘Großer Deutscher Schallplattenpreis’, the Album of the Year Award of the German Record Critics.

From 1982 to 1988 Vitous also taught at the New England Conservatory in Boston and was for three years chairman of its jazz department, before coming back to Europe as the 1990s beckoned. Based for some years in Northern Italy, where he ran his own studio near Turin (where both Music of Weather Report and its predecessor Remembering Weather Report were recorded), Miroslav Vitous has since returned to the Czech Republic. 

© 2HP Production, November 2017
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