The Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous was one of the founding members of the landmark jazz troupe Weather Report. But it was perhaps to his short-sighted fortune that he parted ways just as the fusion movement came of age, carrying Weather Report to somewhat mythic status in the process. The two bassists succeeding him, Alphonso Johnson and especially Jaco Pastorius, would eventually eclipse Vitous’ fame.
“Music of Weather Report” is a second acknowledgment of and tribute to his one-time band and the sound he helped fashion with co-founders Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter. Like 2009’s “Remembering Weather Report,” the new “Music” is less a tribute and more of a musical reconciliation.
Where “Remembering” was more a general treatise on the mood and musical makeup of the early Weather Report days where Zawinul’s keyboard work served as the lone electric voice in an otherwise acoustic ensemble, “Music” focuses more on the band’s actual repertoire — some of it, in fact, coming from after Vitous’ 1973 departure. But an open and often abstract telling of the music links both records.
It should be noted that anyone expecting much of an approximation to Weather Report’s sense of groove and electric invention will be left scratching their heads over “Music.” What Vitous does is essentially organize a double trio — two drummers (which Weather Report maintained for much of its career), two saxophonists (which the band didn’t possess, although Shorter played with the might of an army) and two keyboardists (which include a moonlighting Vitous when not anchored by duties as a bassist, of which he is the only one).
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What results are spacious and often spacey explorations with Vitous’ acoustic bass as pilot. The premise is set into motion with “Scarlet Woman Variations,” a tune that still revolves around what was Shorter’s original soprano sax line. Here, it is enveloped with bass and percussion in a manner that faithfully mirrors some of Weather Report’s metamorphosis into a fusion project.
“Birdland Variations,” however, upends completely what was keyboardist Zawinul’s signature tune from the Pastorius era by rearranging the song’s various themes. The synth bass opening of the original version surfaces in the middle of this new reading as an acoustic interlude, while the main melody is corroded on bowed bass and served in fractured bits near the intro.
Perhaps the most complimentary workouts are “Seventh Arrow” and “Morning Lake,” tunes originally from Weather Report’s self-titled 1971 debut album, a record that embraced the sort of unhinged interplay that all of “Music” strives for. It all makes for an unsettling but fascinating visitation of a jazz legacy by one of its key architects.
Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.