Some truisms are so true. If you have the chance to listen to Miroslav Vitous' Universal Syncopations
, you will understand why I'm compelled to say that music is about listening. Syncopations
is a unique gathering of well vetted musicians who, besides of playing with real mastery, seem to be listening to each other carefully and respectfully. It is a sort of aural democracy: everybody has the chance to say it all and, at the same time, everyone lets the other have his share.
Nevertheless, Vitous represents the backbone of such a democratic conversation. He's always suggesting the topic the rest may be talking about. He doesn't impose it, he proposes it. It's useless to say Vitous is a master orator; his speech is not loud but soft and clear, and above all imaginative and skillful. Vitous constructs a perfect balance between the harmonic and the melodic virtues of the bass. In fact, most of the time DeJohnette alone sustains the rhythm stance when needed. These players don't have to wait for the ever rhythmic bass line.
The whole band is a bunch of crafty veterans who happen to be conversing and collaborating with short but incisive and graceful statements. Jan Garbarek's quota is kind of sharp. His unusual incursion into the tenor is one of the highlights of Universal Syncopations. Pianist Chick Corea, for his own, is quite discreet. He says this or that and then goes back to silence. So does guitarist John McLaughin, who seems to say "I think... and then shut himself up. But the very beginning of his thought is worth a careful listen.
On the other hand, the whole repertoire weaves itself as a suite, a proud representative of the ECM aesthetic. It's more an audible atmosphere than merely a recording session by a group of old pals. The cover photo of the record shows a mysterious nocturnal sky adorned with dashed white clouds. If such an image could make sound, Vitous' Universal Syncopations would come straight to our ears, conversing and letting us to know why music is a matter of hearing.
Personnel: Miroslav Vitous (upright bass); Jan Garbarek (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Valerie Ponomarev (trumpet, flugelhorn); Wayne Bergeron (trumpet); Isaac Smith (trombone); Chick Corea (piano); John McLaughlin (guitar); Jack DeJohnette (drums).