Miroslav Vitous Group / Miroslav Vitous

Miroslav Vitous Group

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After two years of playing live together, this quartet under the Czech bassist's name issued its lone recording date for ECM in 1981. With John Surman on soprano and baritone saxophones as well as bass clarinet, Kenny Kirkland on piano, and drummer Jon Christensen, they deliver an often engaged though sometimes ponderous program. Vitous wrote four pieces while Kirkland and Surman contributed one apiece. and there are two group improvisations. The bassist's opener, "When Face Gets Pale," is one of the set's highlights. His bright, pizzicato head is polished by the pianist's colorful chord voicings and Christensen's light, dancing kit work. Surman's baritone doesn't enter until past the halfway mark, but its grainy, throaty embellishments and driving lyricism add weight and swing. Another highlight is the reedman's "Number Six," a kinetic modal piece on which his soprano wails and careens across the top, Kirkland adds accents, fat chords, and a smoking post-bop solo. "Gears" is fat, hard, outré post-bop. Vitous shines, moving all over the neck, into and against the rhythm section. Of the two improvs, only the longer "Interplay" really works. It begins tentatively, but Vitous and Surman find their mark quickly. Christensen isn't interested in force so much as texture, coloration, and circular rhythmic accents. Kirkland initially offers investigative modal inquiries in both the middle and upper registers, but just as Vitous takes up the bow for some fine arco work, he finds a mysterious vamp that the others pick up and move off into the labyrinth with. This is more a record of extended moments than consistently engaging pieces. For anyone who hasn't heard it, the juxtaposition of Surman and Kirkland in this context is alone worth the price of investigation.

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