Despite his unceremonious ousting from Weather Report, a group he helped found alongside saxophonist Wayne Shorter and keyboardist Joe Zawinul, bassist Miroslav Vitous has not shied away from revisiting the band’s repertoire and influence. This process started with 2009’s Remembering Weather Report, which saw Vitous tackling his own material inspired by the spirit of his former band, and now with his new album Music of Weather Report, he takes on many of those iconic compositions head on. (Get it from Amazon.)
If anything, this album represents an alternative history, one where Miroslav Vitous‘ vision remained a primary focus for the group. Tracks like “Scarlet Woman Variations” and “Seventh Arrow” retain strong ties to their original versions, although they are somewhat abstracted, the result of decades of musical advancement that’s available to the players to inform these performances. Vitous’ distinctive arco bass work almost hints at Zawinul’s sonic identity in the pieces, often joining the saxophones of Gary Campbell and Roberto Bonisolo in unison thematic statements. Meanwhile, keyboardist Aydin Esen plays an understated role, often echoing the abstract and psychedelic strains found on Miles Davis‘s “In a Silent Way” (itself a Zawinul composition). The strange sounds he musters helps to create a unique atmosphere, like Weather Report meets Sun Ra.
The album also features the amazing drum duo of Gerald Cleaver and Nasheet Waits, and their contributions are vital throughout the album. They often play at almost cross-currents, and competing time signatures and free playing abound, all creating an underlying rhythmic bedrock. This is best illustrated on the album’s standout track, “Birdland.”
“Birdland” isn’t just Weather Report‘s best-known tune, it is also easily the most recognizable song of the fusion era. It is worth noting that it came long after Vitous had parted ways with the group, his place taken by Jaco Pastorius. His take on it is very much a deconstruction, where the various melodies drift in and out of the performance and they are rarely played to completion. The effect is haunting, and this spectral quality feels appropriate, as if the composition is showing the wear and tear of all those intervening years.
Music of Weather Report (get it from Amazon) is a deeply satisfying statement, and although one certainly can’t replace the accomplishments of that seminal group, this reimagining possesses great merit. The openness of these interpretations create a space in which those who might struggle with Weather Report‘s poppy sensibilities may be able to enjoy the material on their own terms, while the ardent fan can hear the compositions in a new light. That being said, one is left to wonder what Miroslav Vitous‘ own intentions are in revisiting these tunes. We may never know for sure, but somehow Weather Report‘s legacy seems even more secure in light of this new album.
Watch Weather Report perform live in Germany in 1971: