Miroslav Vitous Group / Miroslav Vitous

Remembering Weather Report

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Miroslav Vitous was the founding bassist in Weather Report, a band that by its end, had traveled very far from its roots. But it is indeed that band's musical foundation that interests Vitous here on his tribute to that musical, freedom-seeking egalitarian spirit that was evidenced so profoundly on its 1971 debut album and I Sing the Body Electric. With trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti, tenor saxophonist Gary Campbell, drummer Gerald Cleaver, and a guest appearance by Michel Portal on bass clarinet on three tracks, Vitous, following his return to ECM in 2003, sets about not only rediscovering the original vision that guided him during his stay with WR, but ultimately demanding it in his brief liner essay that is indeed born out by the music here. "This album is a reminder that the way of playing discovered at this time pointed toward a future music yet to be fully realized. Now it is time for it to come upfront: there is no other way to go, if you wasn't to progress towards musical freedom and a universal concept of equal sharing." Indeed, where WR was, in the beginning of the collective mind that "everybody solos/nobody solos" aesthetic, so it is with this excellent unit, grounded as it is in that self-same principle. "Variations on Wayne Shorter" takes Vitous' former bandmate's composition "Nefertiti" and uses its phrases sparingly, ultimately creating a new improvisational and lyrical theme for its frame. "Variations on Lonely Woman" does indeed invoke Ornette Coleman's composition while using Antonin Dvorák's largo from the 9th Symphony. Vitous' bowing is impeccable and indeed the equal of anyone currently out there, including ECM's other great arco player, Anders Jormin. Likewise his "When Dvorak Meets Miles" is a very loose evocation on the former composer's motifs as adapted to Miles Davis' more rhythmically savvy, open-ended modes. There is also an excellent duo improvisation called "Surfing with Michel," and a stellar new composition by Vitous entitled "Semina," that is dedicated to the "nobler aspirations of Joe Zawinul." (To be fair, Vitous seems to conveniently forget his own jazz fusion days when he wore a coat of pure sheepskin on record covers and evoked the cosmos and funk fuzak on his own records -- perhaps it his own nobler aspirations he is referring to as well. You could at least dance to Zawinul's tunes.) Here, the sparse notational music that allows for each instrument to play an intensely, exquisitely balanced role in creating a mass of not only sound, but something that can only be called "song" is truly inspiring -- Cleaver's cymbal work, and the lower-end arco playing of Vitous put the rhythm section in the moment of creation instead of merely holding it down for the horns. This is an excellent set; proof that modern jazz that recognizes improvisation as a direct result of form, and indeed inspires it further, is a case in point for a modern jazz where anything at all still is possible.

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