Recorded fall 2006 and spring 2007
Universal Syncopations Studios
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 Dvorak'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.
- Thom Jurek (All Music Guide)
On the surface, Remembering Weather Report possesses little in common with the fusion supergroup that Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous co-founded in the early '70s with keyboardist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, before being summarily removed on the cusp of greater commercial success. Weather Report was a decidedly electric group; Vitous' is unapologetically acoustic, and doesn't really resemble, musically, early albums including WR's remarkable self-titled, 1971 debut and '72 follow-up, I Sing the Body Electric, both on Columbia. But scratch beneath the surface and there's an intrepid spirit there that pays greater homage than more direct tributes.
Weather Report's early "everybody solos, nobody solos" ethos was a democratic dictum, asserting complete equality and independence. No conventional timekeeping rhythm section-at least in its early years-and that's the real link between two groups distanced by nearly 40 years. With a core quartet featuring Italian trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti, tenor saxophonist Gary Campbell and drummer Gerald Cleaver-the latter two back from the bassist's award-winning Universal Syncopations II (ECM, 2007)-with the superb Michel Portal guesting on bass clarinet on three tracks, Vitous has assembled a truly egalitarian ensemble-though his strong voice, especially on arco, does tend to dominate much of the proceedings. Still, with a distinctive, fleet-fingered approach and lyrical bent with a bow that rivals Swedish bassist Anders Jormin's similar ability to make his instrument sing, Vitous has never sounded so distinctive, or so good.
Opening with a tribute to Shorter, Vitous references the saxophonist's enduring "Nefertiti," but only loosely. His relationship with the intuitive Cleaver is kinetic, as the horns wrap around both Shorter's theme and Vitous' alternating arco and pizzicato, creating an increasingly turbulent setting that's all about interaction and nothing about overt virtuosity, even though there's no denying the mastery of every player. "Variations on Lonely Woman" is more faithful to Ornette Coleman's classic, with multiple cued segments acting as rallying points for the group, as its exploration creates some especially wonderful sonic combinations, especially when arco bass, tenor sax, trumpet and clarinet orbit around and, finally, coalesce into its iconic melody.
Vitous also pays tribute to Zawinul on "Semina" by referencing the recently departed keyboardist's European classicism-a characteristic that has continued to imbue Vitous' music throughout his career, but which Zawinul deserted early on, in favor of funkier and, later, world music-informed writing. A duet with Portal, "Surfing With Michel," is a high point of Remembering Weather Report if only because, stripped down to two largely linear instruments (though Vitous strums chords throughout), it vividly exposes their endearing qualities, with Vitous managing to keep time and deliver free flights of fancy in direct response to Portal's equally unfettered ideation.
Those looking for more direct reference to its titular inspiration may be disappointed, but for those who remember its original spirit and premise, Remembering Weather Report is an album that takes Weather Report's original premise and places it firmly in a 21st Century context of spirited contemporary improvisation and empathic interplay.
- John Kelman, AAJ
Miroslav Vitous invokes the improvisational spirit of his old band in a strikingly original project. A co-founder of Weather Report, along with Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul, back in 1970, the Czech bassist overturned expectations of the role of his instrument inside that ensemble. During WR's early years, on albums including "Weather Report", "I Sing The Body Electric" and "Live In Tokyo", Miroslav's extraordinarily agile bass was part of the frontline. Indeed, early Weather Report dissolved distinctions between frontline and rhythm section: free dialogue and equal rights for all the instruments was a key component of the group's original musical philosophy. Vitous sets out to revive it with his new ensemble, while sidestepping Weather Report's repertoire. Instead he offers dedications to Shorter and to Zawinul (quoting, in the former instance, from Wayne's "Nefertiti"). He explores a series of variations on Ornette Coleman, speculates on a meeting of Dvorak and Miles Davis, improvises on the blues. In this wide-open acoustic music, another critical distinction between then and now, anything is possible.
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 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 and Jon Christensen ("First Meeting", "Miroslav Vitous Group", "Journey's End"). 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 Gro?er 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 returning to Europe as the 1990s beckoned. He is currently based in Northern Italy where he runs his own studio near Turin (he is both engineer and recording producer of "Remembering Weather Report") and is a strong presence on the touring circuit.
His core band here features US musicians Gerald Cleaver (drums) and Gary Campbell (tenor) - both of whom appeared on "Universal Syncopations II" - and Swiss trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti. On three pieces Vitous is joined by another musician of iconic stature, clarinettist Michel Portal, pioneer of adventurous jazz and more in France. Already in the 1960s, Portal was playing "intuitive music" with Stockhausen and free jazz with Sonny Murray. Few present day reedmen have his range. His vast discography embraces dozens of film scores, collaborations with Boulez, jazz with John Surman or Martial Solal or Joachim Kuhn as well as his own bands, Gallic tango adventures with Richard Galliano, black rock experiments in Minneapolis and more. He was last heard on ECM in the company of singer Susanne Abbuehl ("Compass"). Portal is also highly-regarded in the classical world, and has participated in numerous recordings of both 19th century and contemporary repertoire.
Miroslav clearly has a special musical understanding with drummer Gerald Cleaver, and praises his creative freedom - their interaction through this disc is volatile. The Detroit born Cleaver has played or recorded with Henry Threadgill, Roscoe Mitchell, Lotte Anker, Reggie Workman, Marilyn Crispell, Matt Shipp, William Parker, Craig Taborn, Kevin Mahogany, Charles Gayle, Mario Pavone, Ralph Alessi, Jacky Terrasson, Jimmy Scott, Muhal Richard Abrams, Dave Douglas, Tim Berne, Jeremy Pelt, Ellery Eskelin, David Torn and many others.
Trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti is one of the key figures of jazz in Switzerland, first coming to international prominence in the early 1960s through performances with Gato Barbieri and with George Gruntz in the early 1960s. And then, from the 1970s, with Phil Woods, Dexter Gordon, Cannonball Adderley, Joe Henderson, Michael Brecker, Mike Stern, Hal Galper, Kenny Clarke, and others.
Like his bandmates in the Vitous ensemble, Indiana-born tenorist Gary Campbell has a vast range of experience: he has worked with musicians from bop trumpeter Red Rodney to Cuban drummer Ignacio Berroa. His own projects as a leader have recently included John Abercrombie. Campbell is also the author of five books on jazz improvisation.