Miroslav Vitous invokes the improvisational spirit of his old band in a strikingly original project. A co-founder of Weather Report, along with Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul, back in 1970, the Czech bassist overturned expectations of the role of his instrument inside that ensemble. During WR’s early years, on albums including “Weather Report”, “I Sing The Body Electric” and “Live In Tokyo”, Miroslav’s extraordinarily agile bass was part of the frontline. Indeed, early Weather Report dissolved distinctions between frontline and rhythm section: free dialogue and equal rights for all the instruments was a key component of the group’s original musical philosophy. Vitous sets out to revive it with his new ensemble, while sidestepping Weather Report’s repertoire. Instead he offers dedications to Shorter and to Zawinul (quoting, in the former instance, from Wayne’s “Nefertiti”). He explores a series of variations on Ornette Coleman, speculates on a meeting of Dvorak and Miles Davis, improvises on the blues. In this wide-open acoustic music, another critical distinction between then and now, anything is possible.
Vitous’s artistic path has been a singular one. Born 1947 in Prague, he had his first musical successes while in his early teens, playing in trio with Jan Hammer (piano) and Alan Vitous (drums). A scholarship to study at the Berklee College brought him to the US, and by 1967 he was a central figure on the US scene playing with – amongst others – Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Stan Getz and Herbie Mann.
He was first heard on ECM in the 1970s leading his own band with John Surman and Jon Christensen (“First Meeting”, “Miroslav Vitous Group”, “Journey’s End”). In the 1980s he recorded for the label as a member of Chick Corea’s trio with Roy Haynes (“Trio Music”, “Live in Europe”) and issued a dazzling solo bass album (1985’s “Emergence”). In the 1990s he was heard with Jan Garbarek in duo and trio contexts (“Atmos”, “Star”). After a hiatus during which the bassist was developing and marketing his highly successful symphonic orchestra samples software, he returned to ECM for two volumes of “Universal Syncopations” (2003 and 2007) – both of which were critical and popular successes. “Universal Syncopations II” won the Großer Deutscher Schallplattenpreis, the Album of the Year Award of the German Record Critics.
From 1982 to 1988 Vitous also taught at the New England Conservatory in Boston and was for three years chairman of its jazz department, before returning to Europe as the 1990s beckoned. He is currently based in Northern Italy where he runs his own studio near Turin (he is both engineer and recording producer of “Remembering Weather Report”) and is a strong presence on the touring circuit.
His core band here features US musicians Gerald Cleaver (drums) and Gary Campbell (tenor) – both of whom appeared on “Universal Syncopations II” – and Swiss trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti. On three pieces Vitous is joined by another musician of iconic stature, clarinettist Michel Portal, pioneer of adventurous jazz and more in France. Already in the 1960s, Portal was playing “intuitive music” with Stockhausen and free jazz with Sonny Murray. Few present day reedmen have his range. His vast discography embraces dozens of film scores, collaborations with Boulez, jazz with John Surman or Martial Solal or Joachim Kühn as well as his own bands, Gallic tango adventures with Richard Galliano, black rock experiments in Minneapolis and more. He was last heard on ECM in the company of singer Susanne Abbuehl (“Compass”). Portal is also highly-regarded in the classical world, and has participated in numerous recordings of both 19th century and contemporary repertoire.
Miroslav clearly has a special musical understanding with drummer Gerald Cleaver, and praises his creative freedom – their interaction through this disc is volatile. The Detroit born Cleaver has played or recorded with Henry Threadgill, Roscoe Mitchell, Lotte Anker, Reggie Workman, Marilyn Crispell, Matt Shipp, William Parker, Craig Taborn, Kevin Mahogany, Charles Gayle, Mario Pavone, Ralph Alessi, Jacky Terrasson, Jimmy Scott, Muhal Richard Abrams, Dave Douglas, Tim Berne, Jeremy Pelt, Ellery Eskelin, David Torn and many others.
Trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti is one of the key figures of jazz in Switzerland, first coming to international prominence in the early 1960s through performances with Gato Barbieri and with George Gruntz in the early 1960s. And then, from the 1970s, with Phil Woods, Dexter Gordon, Cannonball Adderley, Joe Henderson, Michael Brecker, Mike Stern, Hal Galper, Kenny Clarke, and others.
Like his bandmates in the Vitous ensemble, Indiana-born tenorist Gary Campbell has a vast range of experience: he has worked with musicians from bop trumpeter Red Rodney to Cuban drummer Ignacio Berroa. His own projects as a leader have recently included John Abercrombie. Campbell is also the author of five books on jazz improvisation.
Miroslav Vitous is presenting the music of “Remembering Weather Report” live, with tour dates in Italy and France in June: further concert activity is currently in planning stages.