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Listening Post: Eric Clapton and friends on guitar; Miroslav Vitous’ alternate-world ‘Weather Report’

BLUES/ROCK

Eric Clapton and Guests “Crossroads Revisited” (Rhino, three discs) The blues guitar orgy of the summer – and it’s on record. Let’s call the roll: B. B. King, Buddy Guy, Ronnie Wood, Joe Walsh, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana, James Taylor, Steve Winwood, Cheryl Crow, Vince Gill, Jeff Beck, Gary Clark Jr., John Mayer, Willie Nelson, Z.Z. Top, Los Lobos, Albert Lee, Dereck Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, Booker T. with Steve Cropper and Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Robert Cray and Jimmie Vaughan. Here are the stats: three discs, 41 selections and almost four hours of live music. What is it? Some history is necessary. In 1998, Eric Clapton founded the Crossroads Center in Antigua for the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. In 2004, he founded the Crossroad Music Festival to convene vaguely like-minded guitarists in rock and blues to perform the center’s benefit. There were four of them – in 2004, 2007, 2010, 2013. This collection takes from all of them. None of it has been on CD before or available digitally either. Hearing these musicians feed each other, compete with each other, and blow each other’s minds in the brotherhood and sisterhood of the plectrum is a transcendent pleasure no matter how much inevitable sameness and even jam session tedium sneaks in through the back door sometimes. Wait until you hear this new Clapton version of “Layla.” Or Clapton and Santana on Olatinjui’s “Drums of Passion.” Or James Taylor and Joe Walsh on “Steamroller.” Or Clapton reuniting with Steve Winwood on “Presence of the Lord.” Or “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss” with B. B. King, Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan and Hubert Sumlin. When everyone arrives onstage with a plectrum, there is temporarily no country, no war and no hidden agenda that is likely to triumph. For at least four generations of listeners, this kind of ecstasy-of-the-frets is a universal language. It is spoken here with exemplary eloquence all the way through. Four stars out of four. (Jeff Simon)

JAZZ

Miroslav Vitous, “Music of Weather Report” (ECM). Imagine what would have happened if the original version of Weather Report with bassist Miroslav Vitous’ vision of it as a free jazz band had held sway. Imagine that what we now think of as classic Weather Report – “Birdland,” especially by Joe Zawinul – had become free jazz and not a composition whose familiarity and infectiousness gave it a kind of hit jazz status. That’s what you might have had that you have here. Vitous atomizes the melody of “Birdland” and turns it dream-like. He plays phrases from it and then fills free rhythmic stretches between them with antiphony or variation, without any of the bright rhythmic churn people love so much about it. Two drummers – Nasheet Waits and Gerald Cleaver – are playing on it. Says Vitous “one drummer plays in a 3/4 time while the other plays in 4/4 or free time.” I can’t pretend that I don’t prefer what Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter did after Vitous left the band and was replaced by the five thousand fingers of Jaco Pastorius. But in this and his previous “Remembering Weather Report,” Vitous is giving us a Weather Report from an alternate reality. Joe Zawinul’s “Brown Street” remains the greatest record of the band’s repertoire played by one of its creators in another way. What was revealed was how tremendous the band book was when arranged for a lush Euro-jazz orchestra. This is another way of finding another climate for Weather Report classics. If it may not be completely congenial to you, you can’t say tourism inside it isn’t interesting. Two and a half stars out of four. (Jeff Simon)