Jazz CD Reviews
Miroslav Vitous Group w/Michel Portal – Remembering Weather Report – ECM
Published on July 23, 2009
Miroslav Vitous Group w/Michel Portal – Remembering Weather Report – ECM 2073 BOO13039-02, 48:02 *** [Release date: July 12, 09]:
(Miroslav Vitous, double bass; Franco Ambrosetti, trumpet; Gary Campbell, tenor saxophone; Gerald Cleaver, drums; Michel Portal, bass clarinet)
On Remembering Weather Report, the group’s first bassist, Miroslav Vitous, has written music inspired by the band’s early work and, as Vitous writes in his liner notes, their concept of "direct conversation and parity between the instruments, leaving behind old roles of rhythm section servitude." In the same liner notes, Vitous gets in a few digs at his old group, writing "After my departure, Weather Report moved away from this kind of freedom, and towards the rhythms of funk," and wryly dedicates the song Semina to Joe Zawinul’s "nobler aspirations."
As fans of early Weather Report and Vitous are aware, something quite magical can happen when the sound of Vitous’ doublebass and various horns intermingle, a mixing of the kind of Slavic folk melodies you might hear from Dvorak or Bartok with bluesy trumpet and saxophone lines. For those unfamiliar with this sound, I suggest tracking down Joe Zawinul’s first solo record and listening to the song, "His Last Journey," which contains a breathtaking doublebass melody courtesy of Vitous that sounds something like a ship’s blowhorn singing.
The highlight by far on Remembering Weather Report is "Variations on Lonely Woman," a cover of Ornette Coleman’s most popular song. Utilizing Michel Portal’s bass clarinet sound for its seductive, noir-ish sound, the group creates a heavy mood- equal parts sad and sensual. "When Dvorak Met Miles" is strong as well, featuring two or three gorgeous melodies from Vitous. But other songs suffer slightly from the very parity between instruments that Vitous touts as his goal, with the result sounding stuck somewhere between fusion’s experimentation with unconventional melodies and moods, and free jazz’s free-for-all. While I get the feeling Vitous may not feel fully comfortable anymore using a lot of electronic instruments or production effects like reverb and echo, those were the sorts of tools that helped music like this cohere, creating a mood and texture that allowed for a lot of experimentation without threatening to derail a song’s momentum.
There is a lot of great playing on Remembering Weather Report, especially from Vitous and Portal, but I personally wish more attention was paid to creating a dominant mood or tone. However, if it’s this very creative chaos you appreciate, especially constant rhythmic instability, you’ll definitely enjoy Remembering Weather Report.
TrackList: Variations on W. Shorter, Variations on Lonely Woman, Semina, Surfing With Michel, When Dvorak Met Miles, Blues Report.
— Daniel Krow