Album Remarks & Appraisals:
The great Czech bassist returns once more to the music of Weather Report, the group he co-founded with Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter in 1970. Well-known Report repertoire re-explored is interspersed along the way with three new blues tunes from Vitous's pen. The band, driven by the astounding double drumming and double saxophone- playing, is energetic and daring, juxtaposing fast tempos and rhythmically free pulses, with Miroslav's bass the anchor of everything.
Tributee: Weather Report.
Personnel: Miroslav Vitous (keyboards, double bass); Robert Bonisolo, Gary Campbell (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Aydin Esen (keyboards); Gerald Cleaver, Nasheet Waits (drums).
Recording information: Universal Syncopations Studios (2010-03-??_2010-05-??_2011-).
Bassist and composer Miroslav Vitous was one of the founding members of Weather Report. He left after 1973's Sweetnighter, disgruntled over a change in direction toward funk. However, as evidenced by 2009's Remembering Weather Report, an homage based on WR themes and ideas, his respect for the music never diminished. On The Music of Weather Report, Vitous and his sextet offer exploratory variations of compositions he recorded them during his tenure with WR, and key tunes created after his departure. Drummer Gerald Cleaver and saxophonist Gary Campbell return from the 2009 session, but Vitous recruits seconds at each instrument -- saxophonist Roberto Bonisolo and drummer Nasheet Waits -- and adds the massive keyboard talent of Aydin Esen. Vitous' signature upright bass is often played arco with a wah-wah pedal, and he adds additional keyboards.
There are two "Scarlet Woman Variations" with slightly different titles. Vitous uses Joe Zawinul's melody, but extrapolates the harmonics, opening them wide to expose a bluesy balladry underneath, articulated by a haunting synth, and saxes in sparse call and response. His woody plectrum upright and arco playing flit amid ghostly rhythm traces and ambient electronics. "Birdland Variations" uses its memorable melodic theme, breaks it down to its essences, and rebuilds it radically without losing the hook. Its notion of time is stretched, with one drummer playing 3/4 while the other swings in 4/4, leaving the saxes free to decide whom to follow. His wah-wah expressionism bridges all four players and he delves into funk as Esen's keys illuminate the interior and color the margins. Vitous uses familiar WR themes in his own three "Multi Dimension Blues" interludes that bind these tunes together. The reading of Wayne Shorter's "Pinocchio" (first recorded on Miles Davis' Nefertiti in 1967, then in 1978 on WR's Mr. Gone), juxtaposes Vitous' effects-laden arco playing along with a soprano and tenor sax engagement that relays the primary melody in elemental statements. Esen reconstructs the harmony using fragmentary notions in striking progressions. Vitous' tenure with WR is reflected in "Seventh Arrow" (captured in studio on their 1971 self-titled debut and in concert on 1972's Live in Tokyo). This version is closer to the latter, offering a forceful exchange between drummers and head-to-head conversation from the saxophonists. Esen and Vitous crack open color and textural palettes from the inside, illuminating both poles. "Morning Lake" is darker than its 1971 original, as ambient synth swirls, shimmering Rhodes, and skittering alternate drum patterns create its elusive spine. Intermittent interplay between horns offers modal melodic fragments. The bassist's wah-wah pedal is the pulse. The piece floats, simmers, and eventually explodes with the sample of a thunderstorm to close. While WR's rock and funk fans may require a couple of listens to find the grooves, they are certainly there. Jazz fans should readily embrace The Music of Weather Report as top-flight 21st century fusion, rife with canny improvisation by an excellent group with an inspired leader. ~ Thom Jurek
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