“Universal Syncopations II” – recorded between November 2004 and April 2005 - features music for ensemble, orchestra and choir composed, archived, arranged, directed, produced and engineered by Miroslav Vitous. The mutli-gifted bassist began work on “Universal Syncopations II” immediately after completing its critically acclaimed predecessor. (Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik Bestenliste 1/2004; Jazz Review, Editor’s Choice; Jazz Magazine, Disque d’émoi; Jazzman, Choc de l’année; Jazzman, Choc du mois; Répertoire, Recommandé; Stereoplay, CD des Monats; La Liberté, Coup de cœur, etc. etc.)
Aware that the constellation of high-profile soloists featured on the first Syncopations disc – Garbarek, Corea, DeJohnette, McLaughlin - was not about to become ‘a band’, Vitous sought to make integrated ensemble playing one of the focal points of the new recording. Soloists include outstanding players of the post-fusion era - : Randy Brecker, Bob Malach, Bob Mintzer, Gary Campbell – all four making their ECM debuts. The core group for most of this disc’s length features drummer Gerald Cleaver and saxophonist Campbell, players who have toured extensively with Miroslav in recent seasons. “Almost all the ensemble playing is live this time,” Miroslav notes. “Universal Syncopations II” nonetheless proposes a wider stylistic range than volume one, as orchestral colours now swirl around its shifting cast of modern jazz players and choirs loom out of the mix. But always Miroslav’s uniquely expressive double-bass drives the music forward, with a central role to play in the ensemble interaction. Of the orchestral settings that surround the ensemble playing or are juxtaposed with it, he says, “I basically sketched the music using, as one of the tools, my Library [his patented Miroslav Vitous Symphonic Orchestra Samples ], later overdubbing orchestral parts, then finishing the whole thing back in Italy.” The work was completed at Miroslav’s Universal Syncopations Studio, located between Genova and Turin.
Drummer Cleaver, from Detroit, came into Miroslav’s group on the recommendation of Jack DeJohnette, and it is immediately clear that bassist and drummer have a special empathy. Cleaver’s detailed responsive drumming seems uniquely attuned to the fleet, alert bass. “Gerald plays the music,” Vitous says simply. “He’s coming from the area of free playing, but I think deep down he’s a ‘classical’ musician. He always has a great feeling for the form, however freely he’s playing ” Vitous emphasizes the idea of a “uniting of the creative force with strong structural concepts,” a permanent goal in his work. Cleaver has previously recorded for ECM with Roscoe Mitchell, and drummed all across the jazz tradition, with players from Hank Jones to Charles Gayle.
Vitous was introduced to saxophonist Gary Campbell by Jerry Bergonzi. Campbell, who makes his ECM debut here, has previously played with Ira Sullivan, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Lonnie Liston Smith, Red Rodney and many others. The Vitous/Campbell/Cleaver nucleus is augmented on “Mediterranean Love” by Italian bandoneonist Daniele di Bonaventura (a player the bassist first encountered at a jam session in Sardinia) and on “Opera” and “Universal Evolution” by reedman Bob Mintzer. Best known for his 15 year membership of the Yellowjackets and leadership of his own New York-based big band, Mintzer sometimes plays in Miroslav’s quintet. “I appreciate his resourcefulness and versatility. I love his bass clarinet on the track ‘Universal Evolution’ where he works out of my melodies to create atmospheres that make you think of Bennie Maupin’s contribution to ‘Bitches’ Brew’.”
Another noted tenor player, Bob Malach, carries the melody on ‘Moment’, accompanied by Czech singer Vesna Vaško-Cáceres whose multi-tracked voice forms a “choir of forest women” on this concluding track.
Randy Brecker is an old friend of the bassist; their paths have crossed often over the years, most recently in Billy Cobham’s quartet. Brecker plays with Mintzer and Vitous on “Gmoong” and contributes an elegant muted trumpet solo on the opening “Opera”, disconcertingly counterpointed by chuckles from the choir. (Miroslav has been giving more thought to the ‘theatrical’ implications of music lately, and plays regular in a duo with actor/writer/performance artist Jaroslav Dušek). Drummer on “Opera” is Adam Nussbaum, well-known to ECM listeners for his contribution to John Abercrombie’s discs.
Miroslav Vitous was born in Czechoslovakia in 1947. He studied violin and piano before taking up the bass at 13, a year later entering the Prague Conservatory, where he also formed a band with his brother Alan on drums and Jan Hammer on piano: in Vitous’s work “jazz” and “classical” sensibilities were interlinked from the outset.
Through a competition organized by Friedrich Gulda, he won a scholarship to the US Berklee School, within months making his presence felt on the American jazz scene. Miles Davis saw Vitous playing with Clark Terry in Chicago in 1967 and invited him to join his group for a residency at New York’s Village Gate. This engagement put the bassist in touch with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams, all important contacts for the future. Between 1968 and 1970, Vitous worked with Herbie Mann and Stan Getz, joined Chick Corea and Roy Haynes in an important trio, played on Wayne Shorter’s “Super Nova” and Joe Zawinul’s “Zawinul” albums, and launched his own career as a leader. As a co-founder of the band Weather Report, he helped to change the direction of jazz in the 1970s with the musical directions laid down on the band’s first four albums: “Weather Report”, “I Sing The Body Electric” and “Sweetnighter”.
Vitous’s first recordings for ECM were with Terje Rypdal and Jack DeJohnette (see ECM 1125 and 1192). In 1979 Vitous formed his own quartet with John Surman, pianist Kenny Kirkland and Jon Christensen and recorded “First Meeting” (ECM 1145) and “Miroslav Vitous Group” (ECM 1185). With John Taylor replacing Kirkland, "Journey’s End” (ECM 1242) completed this trilogy of recordings.
In the early 80s Vitous took up a teaching post as head of the Jazz Department at the New England Conservatory of Music, but continued to tour with Corea and Haynes (see “Trio Music” and “Trio Music, Live In Europe” ECM 1232/23 and 1310) and issued the highly acclaimed solo album “Emergence” (ECM 1312). In 1991 and 1992 he recorded with Jan Garbarek ("Star", "Atmos" ECM 1444 and 1475). For much of the 1990s he was preoccupied with the technological challenges of MIDI-Interface for bass and also with sampling, developing his library of symphony orchestra samples which have since become an important tool for many arrangers and composers. In 2003 the relationship with Garbarek was resumed on the first “Universal Syncopations” disc (ECM 1863) which also featured Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and John McLaughlin.
Miroslav Vitous is currently looking at possibilities for presenting the music of “Universal Syncopations II” in concert. More details soon at www.ecmrecords.com/tours