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Bassist/composer Miroslav Vitous will likely be regarded in history as one of the founding members of Weather Report, staying with them until 1973. Emigrating to the United States from Czechoslovakia in 1966, Vitous worked with a wide variety of musicians and has continued to do so since returning to Europe. He has recorded fourteen albums as a leader, updating Universal Syncopations (ECM, 2003) with a second volume.
Universal Syncopations II does not bear a lot of similarity to the earlier album. The Czech bassist again uses a full orchestra but introduces several players, some of whom are making their ECM debut. Trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonists Bob Mintzer, Gary Campbell and Bob Malach, Adam Nussbaum and Gerald Cleaver on drums, are all now part of the mix.
The packaging of classical and jazz music has been accomplished many times in the latter half of the Twentieth Century. In his notes, Vitous explains that he has provided the alteration of the orchestral music in post-production, creating uncertainty as to whether or not the orchestra contributed to the recording in real time or as part of a cut-and-paste scenario. It poses an interesting philosophical question and, in the end, leaves the listener unsure about the finished product.
All of the new players are afforded solo time in contrast to the full orchestra and, in one unique application, Nussbaum engages in a duet with Vitous on the lengthy "Opera," proving his mettle as a percussionist. On other occasions, the orchestra appears to be about to take flight on some free jazz passages, but is never realized. Daniele di Bonaventura's bandoneon adds a nice touch on "Gmoong. All three saxophonists bring a lot of Michael Brecker's style into their playing, with Mintzer showing this tendency in particular.
This is an ambitious project and deserves repeated listening in order to fully appreciate all the work that Vitous has invested in making this album. There are, however, too many questions as to just how far the bassist went to bring this effort to a conclusion.
Track Listing: Opera; Breakthrough; The Prayer; Solar Giant Mediterranean Love; Gmoong; Universal Evolution; Moment.
Personnel: Miroslav Vitous: double-bass; Bob Mintzer: tenor saxophone (1, 6, 7), bass clarinet (7); Gary Campbell: soprano saxophone (1, 2, 4, 5, 7); tenor saxophone (3); Randy Brecker: trumpet (1, 6); Adam Nussbaum: drums (1); Gerald Cleaver: drums (2-5, 7); Daniele di Bonaventura: bandoneon (5); Bob Malach: tenor saxophone (8); Vesna Vako-Cáceres: voice (8).
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.