Recorded November 2004 - April 2005 at Universal Syncopation Studios (Italy)
Music for ensemble, orchestra and choir composed, archived, arranged, directed and produced by Miroslav Vitous
If you ask a group of longtime Mirolav Vitous admirers what frustrates them the most about his career, many of them will no doubt respond that they wish he had recorded a lot more often as a leader. Indeed, Vitous only recorded sporadically as a leader in the '80s, and the veteran bassist's only '90s date was 1992's Atmos (which he co-led with saxophonist Jan Garbarek). But the good news is that while Vitous isn't big on quantity, he is big on quality. Recorded in 2004 and 2005, Universal Syncopations 2 is Vitous' sequel to his 2003 release Universal Syncopations. Saying that this 52-minute CD is a sequel to the first Universal Syncopations isn't saying that it is a carbon copy of that album; there is a different cast of players this time, and they include, among others, trumpeter Randy Brecker, three saxophonists (Bob Mintzer, Bob Malach and Gary Campbell) and drummer Adam Nussbaum. Mintzer and Malach, it should be noted, were both greatly influenced by the distinctive tenor style of Randy Brecker's late brother Michael Brecker. But Universal Syncopations 2 is not a tribute to the Brecker Brothers; this album always reflects Vitous' personality as a bandleader/arranger, but he clearly welcomes the input of Randy Brecker and the other featured soloists. The interesting thing is that while Universal Syncopations 2 stresses ensemble playing and team work, parts of the album are quite free; this disc offers an inside/outside perspective, sometimes moving into mildly avant-garde territory but never favoring outright chaos. A quintessentially ECM aesthetic is very much at work on this solid effort, which will be enthusiastically welcomed by those who complain that Vitous hasn't recorded often enough as a leader.
All Music Guide
"Universal Syncopations II" - recorded between November 2004 and April 2005 - features music for ensemble, orchestra and choir composed, archived, arranged, directed, produced and engineered by Miroslav Vitous. The mutli-gifted bassist began work on "Universal Syncopations II" immediately after completing its critically acclaimed predecessor. (Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik Bestenliste 1/2004; Jazz Review, Editor's Choice; Jazz Magazine, Disque d'emoi; Jazzman, Choc de l'annee; Jazzman, Choc du mois; Repertoire, Recommande; Stereoplay, CD des Monats; La Liberte, Coup de c?ur, etc. etc.)
Aware that the constellation of high-profile soloists featured on the first Syncopations disc - Garbarek, Corea, DeJohnette, McLaughlin - was not about to become 'a band', Vitous sought to make integrated ensemble playing one of the focal points of the new recording. Soloists include outstanding players of the post-fusion era - : Randy Brecker, Bob Malach, Bob Mintzer, Gary Campbell - all four making their ECM debuts. The core group for most of this disc's length features drummer Gerald Cleaver and saxophonist Campbell, players who have toured extensively with Miroslav in recent seasons. "Almost all the ensemble playing is live this time," Miroslav notes. "Universal Syncopations II" nonetheless proposes a wider stylistic range than volume one, as orchestral colours now swirl around its shifting cast of modern jazz players and choirs loom out of the mix. But always Miroslav's uniquely expressive double-bass drives the music forward, with a central role to play in the ensemble interaction. Of the orchestral settings that surround the ensemble playing or are juxtaposed with it, he says, "I basically sketched the music using, as one of the tools, my Library [his patented Miroslav Vitous Symphonic Orchestra Samples ], later overdubbing orchestral parts, then finishing the whole thing back in Italy." The work was completed at Miroslav's Universal Syncopations Studio, located between Genova and Turin.
Drummer Cleaver, from Detroit, came into Miroslav's group on the recommendation of Jack DeJohnette, and it is immediately clear that bassist and drummer have a special empathy. Cleaver's detailed responsive drumming seems uniquely attuned to the fleet, alert bass. "Gerald plays the music," Vitous says simply. "He's coming from the area of free playing, but I think deep down he's a 'classical' musician. He always has a great feeling for the form, however freely he's playing " Vitous emphasizes the idea of a "uniting of the creative force with strong structural concepts," a permanent goal in his work. Cleaver has previously recorded for ECM with Roscoe Mitchell, and drummed all across the jazz tradition, with players from Hank Jones to Charles Gayle.
Vitous was introduced to saxophonist Gary Campbell by Jerry Bergonzi. Campbell, who makes his ECM debut here, has previously played with Ira Sullivan, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Lonnie Liston Smith, Red Rodney and many others. The Vitous/Campbell/Cleaver nucleus is augmented on "Mediterranean Love" by Italian bandoneonist Daniele di Bonaventura (a player the bassist first encountered at a jam session in Sardinia) and on "Opera" and "Universal Evolution" by reedman Bob Mintzer. Best known for his 15 year membership of the Yellowjackets and leadership of his own New York-based big band, Mintzer sometimes plays in Miroslav's quintet. "I appreciate his resourcefulness and versatility. I love his bass clarinet on the track 'Universal Evolution' where he works out of my melodies to create atmospheres that make you think of Bennie Maupin's contribution to 'Bitches' Brew'."
Another noted tenor player, Bob Malach, carries the melody on 'Moment', accompanied by Czech singer Vesna Vasko-Caceres whose multi-tracked voice forms a "choir of forest women" on this concluding track.
Randy Brecker is an old friend of the bassist; their paths have crossed often over the years, most recently in Billy Cobham's quartet. Brecker plays with Mintzer and Vitous on "Gmoong" and contributes an elegant muted trumpet solo on the opening "Opera", disconcertingly counterpointed by chuckles from the choir. (Miroslav has been giving more thought to the 'theatrical' implications of music lately, and plays regular in a duo with actor/writer/performance artist Jaroslav Dusek). Drummer on "Opera" is Adam Nussbaum, well-known to ECM listeners for his contribution to John Abercrombie's discs.