After all of the recent cycling articles (forgive me, but it's been a very exciting time in the world of Pro Doping, err Cycling), time to get back to some jazz...
This CD by Miroslav Vitous kind of reflects how I felt about ECM a couple of years ago. Sort of bored with the sound and generally out of sympathy, but with enough underlying respect to take a meeting of these giants seriously. I'd even say it triggered something inside me that made me go back to the great days of the label, the 1970s. That's where my musical centre of gravity lies, but I can certainly appreciate and, more importantly, enjoy efforts like this....
Bamboo Forest; Univoyage; Tramp Blues; Faith Run; Sun Flower; Miro Bop; Beethoven; Medium; Brazil Waves.
Wayne Bargeron (t); Valery Ponomarev (t); Isaac Smith (tb); Jan Garbarek (ss, ts); Chick Corea (p); John McLaughlin (g); Miroslav Vitous (b); Jack DeJohnette (d). Recorded 3/00 to 3/03.
ECM has established a brand identity comparable to that of Blue Note Records in its heyday. Their roster of artists is consistent, production values second to none, and the music always carefully conceived and readily identifiable in style. Within European jazz, the label has done more than any other to set standards.
On this latest release we are treated to a dream line-up of musicians whose paths have crossed frequently in the past. Both McLaughlin and DeJohnette were present on Vitous’ seminal 1969 release ‘Infinite Search’, to which this project is something of a backwards nod. Corea could easily have been there had Herbie Hancock been unavailable, though a teenage Garbarek would have made an unlikely locum for Joe Henderson. His selection seems strange even now, but the Norwegian horn-stylist’s work is undoubtedly the revelation of the disc, as he rediscovers his roots in Coltrane and Coleman through some impassioned soloing.
Because ‘Universal Syncopations’ is a more benign type of free-jazz than ‘Infinite Search’, tempered as it is with the restraining influences of age and experience, this is most definitely a post-ECM take on history. Conceived and recorded over a two year period, this is a meticulously planned project. The standout track, ‘Univoyage’, sees Garbarek’s charged solo underpinned by classic Corea incisions, Vitous’ omnidirectional comping and DeJohnette’s restless polyrhythms. McLauglin’s is a more scarcely felt presence, but his commentaries are added to a number of pieces with considerable taste. ‘Tramp Blues’ again takes Garbarek out of his conventional milieu, placing him deep in Gene Ammons territory. ‘Sunflower’ is a playful free for all where Garbarek turns Shorter-esque. Again, the telepathic interplay between the musicians is breathtaking, and however loose the rhythmic thrust becomes, a readily identifiable pulse is always there to reorient the listener.
A small horn section adds coloristic punctuation to three of the pieces, reining in the freedom enjoyed by the soloists without suffocating them. In the end this is unlikely to be an indication of any of the players’ future directions, but it is a genuinely interesting sidebar. Markers like ‘Infinite Search’ are harder to lay down these days because relatively fewer musical frontiers remain. ‘Universal Syncopations’ must succeed simply by being several notches above today’s average release, and it certainly is that.
(Jazz Review, October 2003)