Universal Syncopations II

Miroslav Vitous

“Universal Syncopations II” by Czech bassist/composer Miroslav Vitous explores a wider range of options than its best-selling predecessor (released 2003), as choirs loom out of the mix and orchestral colours swirl around a shifting cast of modern jazz players which includes Randy Brecker on trumpet and Bob Mintzer, Bob Malach and Gary Campbell on saxophones. Miroslav’s uniquely expressive double-bass drives the music forward and has a central role to play in the ensemble interaction.

Featured Artists Recorded

November 2004-April 2005, Universal Syncopations Studios, Clavesana

Original Release Date


  • 1Opera
    (Miroslav Vitous)
  • 2Breakthrough
    (Miroslav Vitous)
  • 3The Prayer
    (Miroslav Vitous)
  • 4Solar Giant
    (Miroslav Vitous)
  • 5Mediterranean Love
    (Miroslav Vitous)
  • 6Gmoong
    (Miroslav Vitous)
  • 7Universal Evolution
    (Miroslav Vitous)
  • 8Moment
    (Miroslav Vitous)
Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik, Jahrespreis 2007
Very interesting, very ambitious project from the original Weather Report bassist that sees him dip into an outstanding pool of musicians – drummers Gerald Cleaver and Adam Nussbaum, saxophonists Bob Mintzer and Bob Malach, trumpeter Randy Brecker among others – and then use the ensemble as a kind of steady bobbin around which to weave the rich sound of orchestra and choir. The whole album has a lovely sense of amalgamated and dislocated textures, with sounds thick and thin continually interweaving and unravelling.
Kevin Le Gendre, Echoes
The great Czech bassist was last heard conjuring up a hit album with John McLaughlin and Chick Corea on the first Universal Syncopations in 2003. Part two heads in a new direction, fusing snatches of orchestral and choral music to a small jazz ensemble that has Vitous’s ever-inventive acoustic bass at its heart. The impressionistic music he creates – with strings and voices threading in and out of the mix – sometimes recalls early Weather Report. … You’ll hear few albums as strikingly original this year.
John Bungey, The Times
Voices move in and out of ‘Opera’, the opening track, which announces a very different and startlingly original album. More ambitious than its predecessor, melodic motifs are developed and expanded by Vitous’ confident and challenging writing and his use of jazz ensemble and strings, which after its attention getting opening settles into a groove under Mintzer’s saxophone solo against an otherwordly orchestral backing and the leader’s virtuoso bass playing. … ‘Breakthrough’ featuring Campbell’s soprano saxophone is an ambitious marriage of jazz and symphonic sounds… ‘Universal Evolution’ is perhaps the ultimate realisation of this … vision which Vitous believes is the way forward for jazz today. With an album as remarkable as this in its melodic, tonal, rhythmic and conceptional diversity, he may just have a point.
Stuart Nicholson, Jazzwise
It’s rather relentless and not easy listening, but Vitous has done that incredibly rare thing and actually made jazz sound new. He also plays superbly throughout.
Phil Johnson, Independent on Sunday
Miroslav Vitous, einer der den Fusiongedanken schon in der Vergangenheit vorangetrieben hat, geht auch hier wieder eigene Wege. Seine antipuristische Haltung führt folgerichtig in einen Maximalismus, sprich Universalismus, in dem das Synkopieren nur mehr als Chiffre für Jazz zu verstehen ist. Vitous ist König im eigenen Reich… Im Streben nach universeller Kontrolle seines absolut beherrschten Klangkosmos finden sich … viele wundersame Klänge, die man sich nicht entgehen lassen sollte.
Universal Syncopations nannte sich ein Aufsehen erregendes, ausgesprochen jazziges Album in phänomenaler All-Star-Besetzung, das der Kontrabassist Miroslav Vitous vor vier Jahren veröffentlichte. … Anstelle einer reinen Studioband gibt es jetzt ein gut eingespieltes Trio als Kernensemble, das verschiedentlich um ausgewählte Solisten erweitert und mit orchestralen Effekten angereichert wird. Letztere bezieht der tschechische Virtuose aus seinem CD-ROM-Archiv von sinfonischen Soundsamples… Auf dem Album nutzt er diese voller Ambition, lässt die Jazzer von Sinfonieorchester und Chören umkreisen, schafft mal Kontraste, mal ein dichtes Ineinander von klassischen und jazzgerechten Sounds, komponierten und improvisierten Strukturen. … Die zentrale Rolle freilich spielt allemal der wundervoll klingende Kontrabass des Wahlamerikaners aus Prag.
Berthold Klostermann, Fono Forum

“Universal Syncopations II” – recorded between November 2004 and April 2005 - features music for ensemble, orchestra and choir composed, archived, arranged, directed, produced and engineered by Miroslav Vitous. The mutli-gifted bassist began work on “Universal Syncopations II” immediately after completing its critically acclaimed predecessor. (Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik Bestenliste 1/2004; Jazz Review, Editor’s Choice; Jazz Magazine, Disque d’émoi; Jazzman, Choc de l’année; Jazzman, Choc du mois; Répertoire, Recommandé; Stereoplay, CD des Monats; La Liberté, Coup de cœur, etc. etc.)

Aware that the constellation of high-profile soloists featured on the first Syncopations disc – Garbarek, Corea, DeJohnette, McLaughlin - was not about to become ‘a band’, Vitous sought to make integrated ensemble playing one of the focal points of the new recording. Soloists include outstanding players of the post-fusion era - : Randy Brecker, Bob Malach, Bob Mintzer, Gary Campbell – all four making their ECM debuts. The core group for most of this disc’s length features drummer Gerald Cleaver and saxophonist Campbell, players who have toured extensively with Miroslav in recent seasons. “Almost all the ensemble playing is live this time,” Miroslav notes. “Universal Syncopations II” nonetheless proposes a wider stylistic range than volume one, as orchestral colours now swirl around its shifting cast of modern jazz players and choirs loom out of the mix. But always Miroslav’s uniquely expressive double-bass drives the music forward, with a central role to play in the ensemble interaction. Of the orchestral settings that surround the ensemble playing or are juxtaposed with it, he says, “I basically sketched the music using, as one of the tools, my Library [his patented Miroslav Vitous Symphonic Orchestra Samples ], later overdubbing orchestral parts, then finishing the whole thing back in Italy.” The work was completed at Miroslav’s Universal Syncopations Studio, located between Genova and Turin.

Drummer Cleaver, from Detroit, came into Miroslav’s group on the recommendation of Jack DeJohnette, and it is immediately clear that bassist and drummer have a special empathy. Cleaver’s detailed responsive drumming seems uniquely attuned to the fleet, alert bass. “Gerald plays the music,” Vitous says simply. “He’s coming from the area of free playing, but I think deep down he’s a ‘classical’ musician. He always has a great feeling for the form, however freely he’s playing ” Vitous emphasizes the idea of a “uniting of the creative force with strong structural concepts,” a permanent goal in his work. Cleaver has previously recorded for ECM with Roscoe Mitchell, and drummed all across the jazz tradition, with players from Hank Jones to Charles Gayle.

Vitous was introduced to saxophonist Gary Campbell by Jerry Bergonzi. Campbell, who makes his ECM debut here, has previously played with Ira Sullivan, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Lonnie Liston Smith, Red Rodney and many others. The Vitous/Campbell/Cleaver nucleus is augmented on “Mediterranean Love” by Italian bandoneonist Daniele di Bonaventura (a player the bassist first encountered at a jam session in Sardinia) and on “Opera” and “Universal Evolution” by reedman Bob Mintzer. Best known for his 15 year membership of the Yellowjackets and leadership of his own New York-based big band, Mintzer sometimes plays in Miroslav’s quintet. “I appreciate his resourcefulness and versatility. I love his bass clarinet on the track ‘Universal Evolution’ where he works out of my melodies to create atmospheres that make you think of Bennie Maupin’s contribution to ‘Bitches’ Brew’.”

Another noted tenor player, Bob Malach, carries the melody on ‘Moment’, accompanied by Czech singer Vesna Vaško-Cáceres whose multi-tracked voice forms a “choir of forest women” on this concluding track.

Randy Brecker is an old friend of the bassist; their paths have crossed often over the years, most recently in Billy Cobham’s quartet. Brecker plays with Mintzer and Vitous on “Gmoong” and contributes an elegant muted trumpet solo on the opening “Opera”, disconcertingly counterpointed by chuckles from the choir. (Miroslav has been giving more thought to the ‘theatrical’ implications of music lately, and plays regular in a duo with actor/writer/performance artist Jaroslav Dušek). Drummer on “Opera” is Adam Nussbaum, well-known to ECM listeners for his contribution to John Abercrombie’s discs.