Friday, March 28, 2008

Gig Review: Luboš Andršt Group

AghaRTA Jazz Centrum
18th March 2008

Of all the groups that play regularly on the Prague scene, the LAG are probably my favourite. They combine jazz with blues, and even intelligent touches of rock here and there. As such they have their own sound, unique to this ensemble. Of all Andršt’s current projects this is probably the most adventurous and, while accessible, there is a distinct flavour of musician’s musicians about the band. That’s not to say that they are self-indulgent (although that’s not the sin that some like to pretend that it is), but the pieces are complex, multi-layered, richly textured, and occasionally knowingly but wryly showy. Above all these guys play hard. Real hard.

Andršt is one of the best guitarists in Central Europe, and has frequently appeared on the wider radar. Check out YouTube for his duet with B.B. King. He has the stature and demeanour of a proper guitarist: a traditional axe-man of the old school who looks like he belongs on stage, says little, and plays loud. A musical heavyweight, he not only has the chops and the taste but he also is a remarkable writer. The bulk of the LAG’s set is his own material, and this emphasises the quality of the guy’s work, and is also what sets him apart from many able guitarists on the Czech scene.

The Group features the maniacal keyboard work of Ondřej Kabrna, a young player of outstanding ability who loses himself totally in the moment. His instrument is not something he plays but an extension of his physical form and he embraces, caresses, and occasionally pounds and thumps the required sounds out of the yielding piano or synth. Trading leads and accompanying guitar lines, Kabrna’s input shapes the sound greatly, as does the six-string electric bass work of “Wimpy” Tichota. An inventive and solid bassist, he is capable of slapping out a damn good solo when the mood takes him.

The importance of Kabrna and Wimpy in the band can be heard by comparing their live renditions of tracks such as “Wide Open Door” and “Song for Saxophone Joe” with the studio versions on the Acoustic Set album (1996). A fine and splendid album but, with vibes instead of piano and acoustic instead of electric bass, it lacks the sheer balls of this live line-up. Indeed, the piano lines added to “Saxophone Joe” by Kabrna utterly transform it, rendering it into a swirling masterpiece. None of the subtlety of the originals is lost, and indeed the current live LAG’s “Follow Your Heart” is more even aching than the sensitively played album track, but there is just an extra bucket of whack available for use when required.

The other musician (apart from LA) who also played on Acoustic Set is drummer and Prague music kingpin Michal Hejna. Now Michal, and this is meant nicely, is not a little chap. As a not little chap myself I feel I can say this. But this guy can move with a speed and fluidity that would leave youngsters and gym-monkeys shaking their heads. Powerful yet nimble, he has a flair for complex drum patterns and a nice line in jolly Latin rattles and shakes, excellently exhibited on Cuban-influenced “La Bodiguita del Medio”.

With a splash of B.B. King and jazz standards in the proceedings, the LAG played a balanced and inventive set. They’re not afraid to expand on ideas and develop the music into extended and satisfyingly segued pieces. Acoustic Set is available from the club’s shop and it is a great piece of music. But this, the live, electrified treatment of the tracks, is even better. This gig proved once again that LAG are one of Prague’s must-see bands. They are also one of the very few bands that would genuinely make the world a better place by releasing a double live album!

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