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Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Sunday, 11 September 2016 02:06

Miroslav Vitous - Music of Weather Report

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Early Weather Report indicates cool free-styling.

For anyone reading this who may not be aware of Weather Report, they were a hugely popular and influential jazz-fusion band of the 70s and 80s, with fourteen studio-recorded albums and four live albums to their name, plus numerous compilations. Originally founded in 1970 by Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Miroslav Vitous, the band went through many changes in members (Vitous left circa 1974) and evolved through many transformations of musical styles. This album reprises a few of Weather Report’s earlier pieces, a couple of their more influential later numbers, as well as some pieces of Vitous’ own independent composition.

Vitous has gathered some excellent musicians for this album:

MIroslav Vitous – Double bass and keyboards

Gary Campbell – Soprano and Tenor Saxophones

Roberto Bonisolo - Soprano and Tenor Saxophones

Aydin Esen – keyboards

Gerald Cleaver – Drums

Nasheet Waits – drums

Scarlet Woman Variations is presented here as a much more improvisational piece and less stark than Weather Report’s 1974 Mysterious Traveller version but with Zawinul’s keyboard theme being taken up by sax and bass.  

Scarlet Reflections is a quieter variation with Vitous’ electronically enhanced bass taking more of a melodic lead with the theme maintained by sax.

Seventh Arrow (taken from debut 1971 album Weather Report) is another highly improvisational piece with two saxes, keyboards and Vitous’ electronic bass all contributing. Very much in the style and feel of the debut album

Birdland (from Heavy Weather, 1977) has to be the most well-known and covered piece of all Weather Report’s music.  Birdland Variations is far more freestyle and improvised than any I’ve previously heard; rhythmically exploding from time to time then dying back. As Vitous explains in notes “One drummer plays in a 3/4 time feel while the other plays in 4/4 or free time”, allowing the musicians to phrase in any tempo.

Pinocchio was written by Wayne Shorter and originally appeared on Miles Davis’s 1967 album Nefertiti before being revisited for Weather Report’s 1978 Mr. Gone album. This version is not punchy like the Mr. Gone version (nor rhythmically jazzy as on Nefertiti) but quietly meandering, with the main theme taken up by sax and bass

Morning Lake (also from debut 1971 album Weather Report) is a quiet and melodic number with soprano and tenor saxes interacting nicely and Vitous’ bass overlaying. Quite distinct from the debut Weather Report version, but it holds up well in that style – my favourite track of this album.

Also included in this album are a number of Vitous’ own pieces:

Acrobat Issues is a saxophone-heavy Vitous composition not on any Weather Report album. It does however, fit into the feel of very early Weather Report. On the other hand Multi Dimension Blues (variations 1,2 and 3) are described as atmospheric blues. Heavily improvised and limited melodically, these left me a little cold and I’m not clear on the reasoning behind their inclusion in an album titled the Music of Weather Report.

While reviewing this album, it became apparent to me that the departure of Miroslav Vitous from Weather Report marked one of their evolutionary jumps, from a freer improvised style to a tighter more composed style. There will be fans who prefer the earlier style and those that prefer the later (I guess my own preference falls into the latter camp), but Vitous has produced a creditable album that reflects the earlier period, even morphing later pieces into the earlier style.

Who will enjoy this album?  Well, if you’re looking for an overview across all of Weather Report’s stages and output, then probably not for you, but if you are familiar with and enjoy the earlier, more improvised period, then this album is a fair reprisal and variation of some of their earlier work and the musicianship is unquestionable

 

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