Friday, March 14, 2008

Gig Review: Pavla Milcová & Tarzan Pepé

AghaRTA Jazz Centrum
8th March 2008

I am not going to start by saying that Pavla Milcová reminded me of Joni Mitchell; not because at times she didn’t, but because that is just lazy. Every pretty girl with a guitar and an intelligent take on songwriting gets compared to Mitchell, and such an original artist as this deserves a better crafted review. Similarly, the word “quirky” could be chucked in at this point, but it won’t be. It gets thrown around a lot with creative female singer-songwriters, and it is usually just a euphemism for “bonkers”. I talked briefly to this lady and she is not actually bonkers. I can usually spot them a mile off.

What Pavla Milcová has is something that I have not heard for a long time, and that is a sound that is genuinely original; something new under the sun is a rare and precious thing. There are overlaps and influences, revealed either by design or by chance, but every time you think you’ve got her nailed down into a convenient category she nimbly steps aside, usually with a laugh. This was jazzy folk (or folky jazz) in a wide horizon context. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66 as an aching duet between her and multi-instrumentalist Peter Binder. Gershwin with a kazoo and cute mime. A deliciously whiter shade of Procol Harum woven seamlessly into the enchanting original “Rosemary”.

Many of the original Milcová/Binder compositions were notably strong: The life-affirming rhythmic romp of “Otče!”, the beautifully fragile-yet-impassioned vocal lines of “My Country”, and the timeless lilt of “Good bye” were particular highlights.

Her three-piece “Tarzan Pepé” outfit is well balanced on stage. Peter Binder leads the band musically with his jazzy and intricate electric guitar style, delivered in good uniformly good taste. Effects are used sparingly, and there’s just enough flash in his fingers to suggest that he could burn fast all night but doesn’t actually want to. Occasionally venturing to the piano, (treated with the same degree of sensitivity) and throwing in some backing vocals to boot, Binder’s work ensures that the music is serious fun. On acoustic bass the able fingers of Jaromír Honzák acted as an anchor and echo of the melody, and he was occasionally let off the leash for a crowd-pleasing string-slapping solo.

Ms. Milcová herself was usually busy with rhythm guitar, kazoo, or sea-shell percussion, all played with infectious gusto. A lot of the pieces were taken from her Pavla Milcová & Tarzan Pepé (1999) and Mentolový Král (2006) albums, with lyrics mainly in Czech. This, coupled with her all-Czech banter, made sure that the atmosphere was that of a real gig rather than a carnival sideshow for the passing international tourist trade.

Unlike many Prague musicians she does not appear in one of the local clubs on a weekly basis, and so her concerts are an event worth clearing the diary for. It is not often that you get surprised by a performance, and it is even less often that surprises are so pleasant. There is folk. There is jazz. There is fun and there is pain. There is intelligence. There is Shakepeare and prog rock. There is kazoo. There is a beautiful voice. And somehow you feel that for once there is something new under the sun.


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