The catalog of ECM records, by cover art design and actual sound, can sometimes seem to feel like a pile of postcards that has been left out in the rain. Following such a catastrophe it would be hard to distinguish one card from the other, and in fact, the faint bits of ink or other artwork that would still be visible might even look like a typical album cover on this label. Nonetheless, there are really individual albums that stand out from the pack, some of them real head-scratchers. Titled simply Miroslav Vitous Group
, this album literally begs consideration of the group itself, which on paper seems kind of strange. Vitous
would be remembered as an early fusion jazz pioneer and something of a bass virtuoso. John Surman
on the whole is a tough-minded saxophonist, and in the case of this album, his appearances often help the group shift into a more interesting direction. Pianist Kenny Kirkland
adds the kind of prettiness this label's honcho adores. Drummer Jon Christensen
comes along on many sessions on this label, often creating an impression as the world's quietest drummer. Here he gets to bear down a bit harder, although if the drummer represents the crust of the pizza then this is still one of those cracker-thin kinds of pies. At one point when Kirkland
takes off on a jazzy solo and the bassist and drummer slip into their rhythm section identities, the combination of the drummer's ultra-light, ultra-crispy cymbals, and the bassist galloping around in the high register brings to mind a munchkin jazz combo.
The album begins strangely, as if in mid-thought, and seemingly in the middle of a take. "When Face Gets Pale" is a great title, but this tune sounds too typical and really does seem to be devoid of its real beginning, going almost right into a bass solo,
followed by the usual modally voiced chords from Kirkland
; it's like, "Hey, we can play jazz, but devoid of any purpose whatsoever. "Second Meeting" is the first taste of the three pieces improvised as a group that, although awkward, represent the most interesting music of the session. Typically, Surman
might suffer his more abstract ruminations dragged down the road into a melodic holiday inn during one of these encounters, but all of the players are interested in being fleet of foot as well as sweet of tooth, so they also will jump at a chance to change directions, even if the results sound weird. Vitous
' solo playing, especially what he does with a bow, is technically brilliant. He sounds much better than many established avant garde bassists, and should have taken over more of the playing time on this effort. Several of the written themes that are performed, contributed by various members of the ensemble, develop great beauty only because of Vitous
' ability to add a marvelous arco part to the harmony. This is an album that flutters between different jazz camps in a manner that might seem indecisive, and probably really is. It is hard to imagine exactly what sort of listener would really be pleased by the results, but also just as hard to deny the existence of excellent playing here and there.