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Not just an album, Universal Syncopations bassist Miroslav Vitous's latest release on ECM, and his first as a leader in more than ten yearsis nothing short of an event. With a stellar line-up consisting of living legends Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, John McLaughlin, and Jan Garbarek, Universal Syncopations is more than merely the sum of some truly fantastic parts. There is no ego on this album. Each musician plays with humility. A sense of stillness pervades the atmosphere. This is music that would not sound out of place in a zen garden.
The album kicks off with the lush "Bamboo Forest," which features a gentle rhythmic pulse laid down by DeJohnette and Vitous. Garbarek weaves a hypnotic line through the bass and drums with his soprano sax. While I greatly admire and respect Jan Garbarek, I sometimes find his tone to be a little too sweet and cloying. Happily, that is not the case here. "Bamboo Forest" sets the pace for the album, letting the listener know that he's in for a real treat.
Corea and McLaughlin first appear on "Univoyage." Both men play beautifully and with great taste. The music is at once adventurious and understated. In this conference of giants, no one need shout: everything is said simply and in a whisper.
"Beethoven," another highlight, opens with DeJohnette tapping out a rhythm on the cymbal while Vitous and Garbarek engage in a dialogue that sparkles with wit and sophistication. On the closing track, "Brazil Waves," Vitous and company bring something new to the old bossa nova. The album ends as it begins, in quiet elegance.
Simply put, Universal Syncopations is one of the loveliest albums to come along in quite some time. With great writing and top-notch performances all around, this is not an album to be described, but to be heard. My best advice is to listen to it, and let the music explain itself.
Track Listing: Bamboo Forest; Univoyage; Tramp Blues; Faith Run; Sun Flower; Miro Bop; Beethoven; Medium;
Personnel: Mirosalv Vitous, bass; Jan Garbarek, soprano and tenor saxophones; Chick Corea, piano; John
McLaughlin, guitar; Jack DeJohnette, drums; Valery Ponomarev, Wayne Bergeron, trumpets; Isaac
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.