Vitous/Garbarek/McLaughlin/Corea/DeJohnette, Universal Syncopations

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Miroslav Vitous returns with cut 'n' paste Syncopations

BILL MILKOWSKI


ECM recording artist Miroslav Vitous hasn't offered up a new album since 1992's Atmos,
a chilling duet with saxophonist Jan Garbarek. Since then the bass legend has been occupied
widi other interests, such as teaching and amassing an extensive library of sampled
orchestral sounds diat he utilizes when performing solo bass concerts. With Universal Syncopations,
Vitous breaks his 10-year recording drought. An all-star affair featuring some famous
colleagues who have been in die bassists orbit since the late '60s, this latest Vitous
outing was two years in the making, and it's highlighted by a remarkable chemistry among
the participants—Chick Corea, Jack Dejohnette, John McLaughlin, Garbarek and Vitous—even if
most of those musicians never played together during the session.
"The whole band never played together on any one piece. I basically laid down the foundation
together with Jack, just bass and drums playing live," Vitous says. "Then I wrote various
statements or motifs for the other players to develop and in between the statements there
was improvisation. I asked all the musicians involved to please take this motif and digest
it and then play it your way. They all did that beautifully, each recording his contribution
one by one, and it truly worked. But it took 14 months of editing in the end to place
everything exactly where I wanted it."
Vitous compares his postproduction process to Teo Maceros work with Miles Davis on
cut-and-paste jobs like In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson. "But now we have
much better technology to really detail positions of where you want to have what," he is
quick to point out. "In the end I didn't do much cutting and pasting; it was more about
choosing and slightly moving things. I just went by my ear. I cannot tell you what I was
looking for because I don't know. But I knew it when I heard it." In some ways,
the depth of musicality on Universal Syncopations barkens back to Vitous' maiden voyage,
the standingly brilliant Infinite Search. "I also made it very difficult for myself because to come out
with an album of that caliber right at the beginning—how you gonna beat that?" he smiles.
But Vitous makes an equally profound statement with Universal Syncopations, in which the
bassist tries to smash the idea of strict role-playing in music. "Basically, I would call
it a new concept, because I think this is the ideal way to play music," he says.
"When you get to the point as I have in my career, when you have played all these recording
sessions with different musicians, you worked in countless rhythm sections where you played
a very specific role—then you grow up and say, 'Now, what's next?' And you begin to think,
'Well, I don't want to do this anymore.' Let's forget about role-playing and start talking
and really communicating with each other. I think music goes to much higher levels and
becomes much more brilliant when it is freed up from role-playing, which to me is an old thing.
Vitous admits that he's still excited by how well Universal Syncopations turned out.
"It's amazing because I hear it today and I think, 'How did Jack Dejohnette know that
Jan Garbarek was going do this particular phrase two years later?' Jan does something,
and Jack goes clunk, and it sounds so unbelievably right on, like an organic
call-and-response. I was able to keep magic in it, which is a difficult thing to do."
The bassist cites two tracks in particular, "Miro Bop" and "Sun Flower," that point to
his new attitude about the bass. "This is where the bass doesn't play all the time.
It's again breaking the traditional role of the bass, basically to set everybody free.
When the bass stops playing, all of a sudden everybody's much more free because you have
an equal thing going among the great musicians, and there's no one playing roles anymore.
Immediately the drums become more free. Everybody becomes more free. It's a very liberating
process."