Friday, March 21, 2008

Gig Review: Robert Balzar Trio

U Malého Glena
14th March 2008

The Robert Balzar Trio are always worth seeing. Their playing radiates skill, commitment, and lots and lots of class. They play with feeling and little compromise. And, if the chattering is kept down, the intimate surrounds of UMG provide a great vantage point to observe their master class in tension and release.

The RB Trio consist of Balzar himself (acoustic bass), pianist Stanislav Mácha, and Jiří Slavíček on drums. All three of them are experienced and acclaimed recording and performing artists, with Balzar and Mácha having the rare distinction of performing with Bill Clinton at his famed Reduta blowing session. This line-up has been together since 2000, allowing them to flex and move the music with the freedom and telepathy that such familiarity allows.

As usual they played a mixture of original compositions, jazz standards, and their sad and silky cover of Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” which retains enough of the original to be familiar but still has an interesting and impressive arrangement. Standout original tracks included the high-energy workout of “Black Cat, White Dog”, and the elegant closer “Ben-In-Jam”, written by RB for his son, Benjamin. This track in particular is a beautiful piece of music that showcases Balzar’s prodigious talents with the bow, leading the melody with dignity, hitting a frenzied climax, and then winding down with poignancy. Taken from their Overnight album (2005) it is worth the price of admission alone, and it is also worth missing a tram for.

As usual the RBT included works by guitarist John Abercrombie, in this case the brooding “Remember Hymn”. A new RBT album featuring Abercrombie, Tales, is due out in April, and it should be one of the highlights of the Prague Jazz year!

The strength of this Trio lies in the quality of the individual players. Slavíček possesses both power and subtlety, and doesn’t have the compulsion that some drummers have to fill every moment of silence with sound. Occasionally ditching his sticks in favour of fingers, his work carries with it a sense of melody as well as rhythm. Mácha too is a controlled and mature player, knowing when to let rip and when to hold back.

The Trio were well received, and by UMG standards the background chunter was not too bad. An intoxicated gentleman tried his luck dancing along to the bouncy riffs of last set opener “On Green Dolphin Street”, but thankfully decided that this was not for him. He may be a drunken ass but at least his taste in music is sound.

The RBT vary their set regularly, and so you never quite know what you are going to get. Some favourites left out usually mean some new favourites brought in. They are undoubtedly one of the jewels in the crown of the Prague jazz scene, and deserve your studious interest and enjoyment.


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