Miroslav Vitous

Probably most renowned for being an early Weather Report member, bassist Vitous has done many other things before and since.

Mountain in the Clouds
Oct. 1969 / Atlantic

Originally released as Infinite Search then re-released on Atlantic with the above title, this is an energetic jam session with Vitous, Joe Henderson, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, and Jack DeJohnette, a veritable supergroup on the threshold of an electric decade. The high point is “Freedom Jazz Dance”, emphasis on freedom. After that come some moodier pieces and a basement blowout (“I Will Tell Him on You”). With virtually every other fusion group relying on electric bass for grounding, Vitous’ nimble doublebass makes the music stand apart. Nevertheless, this isn’t really a group, more a temporary alignment embarked on a collective discovery. Then they all went their separate ways.

Universal Syncopations
2003 / ECM

The A-list team: Jan Garbarek, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, and Vitous on bass. The quintet unites in full only on the lengthy mosaic “Univoyage”, otherwise as smaller units within a program of vignettes with Vitous and DeJohnette the sole constants. Miroslav is in top form, sparring with McLaughlin’s rabbit-quick guitar in “Faith Run” and feeding the ethereal synergy of Corea and Garbarek in “Sun Flower”. Saxophonist Garbarek leads the way in “Bamboo Forest” and “Brazil Waves” (the titles are descriptive enough), digs in on “Tramp Blues”, and engages in an icy call and response with Vitous in “Beethoven”.

The full album lacks somewhat in cohesion and direction, at least on first listen. A couple of choice melodies aside, Vitous’ compositions are just bare sketches, and the group doesn’t quite make up the difference with any flat-out improvising. In fact, here’s the spoiler: the majority of everyone’s contributions, apart from bass and drums, were overdubbed. (Thus no exact recording dates given.) It’s not immediately obvious at all, which says a lot about the reactive sensibilities of these players, not to mention the great engineering/mixing job. And it explains some of the reticence in the tracks; you can’t imagine these guys being reserved in each other’s actual company. There’s also a brass trio that augments three of the tracks, and they are obviously overdubbed - there’s no way to premeditate their entrances into these pieces.

The continual reconfiguring of the players can be disorienting, although we get a hint of what a whole trio album from Garbarek, Vitous, and DeJohnette might sound like. Don’t take my explanations for complaints; it is a very fine record, and anyone with an ear for Garbarek or Vitous or general “ECM-ness” must check it out. Of all the tracks, “Univoyage” is the most rewarding and worth the purchase by itself.

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