Wednesday, May 28, 2008

CD Review: Rudy Linka

News From Home
ARTA F1 0026-2511, 1992

Rudy Linka could perhaps be unsure about where home actually is. He was born in 1960 in Prague, a city that was then the capital of communist Czechoslovakia. He studied in Stockholm at the beginning of the eighties, becoming a Swedish citizen. Since 1985 he has lived in the USA, and it is there that he is currently based. And so, where is home? That question is simply answered by the liner notes of News From Home. The title track is simply annotated with the words “November ’89”: the month of the Velvet Revolution, when his country of birth stood up and gave Moscow the ideological finger.

Linka’s team on this album reflects the country in which he now resides, with Jay Anderson on bass and Bruce Hall on drums. Also heavily in evidence is saxophone wallah and Yellowjacket Bob Mintzer, spraying lead-lines liberally all over the place.

Linka himself plays guitars and guitar synthesiser. Thankfully the latter is kept within moderation. Like most electronic gadgets based on traditional instruments, guitar synths can provide some original and refreshing sounds, but they are very easy to apply in overkill. Tasteful applications however, such as on “Evidence” (Monk), are a welcome addition to the texture of the music.

The album begins with “Bob’s Tune” (Linka). Saxophone led and syncopated, it is a showcase for Mintzer’s considerable talents. Handing over to Linka, again on synthesiser, the effect is surprisingly sweet for a piece containing such complexity. Returning regularly to a catchy riff, this tune contrasts readily with “Alone Together” (Dietz, Schwartz). A more traditional late night affair, in which the band is not afraid to leave space for contemplation, it allows Linka to play some silky smooth jazz guitar over snaps and cymbals. Anderson gets his first real chance to shine here, with his extended acoustic bass solo lending even more of a “live in the hole” feel to the piece. The temptation to clap as the guitar comes back in is considerable. Ditto for the drum breaks, that are understated but with flair.

“Collage” (Linka) is another high-tempo affair, leading into the delightful “Waltz for John” (Linka). Saxophone and tumbling acoustic guitar interplay and echo in sequences of lilting descent. Hall skitters and shifts his patterns, holding the ear without stealing the show.

As a fan of wry naming I have to appreciate such tags as “To Be Named Later” (Linka) and the eternal question “So, Why Not?” (Linka). “News from Home” (Linka) itself is a special track, as befits such a loaded title, and it is perhaps the most sophisticated and aurally interesting composition in this collection. It starts with disjointed percussion, spaced out to allow guitar and bass to entwine around it and with each other. Sometimes in unison and sometimes in contrast, Linka and Anderson perform an elaborate ritual dance, before drums and sax lift the pace and mood to a celebratory and triumphant pitch.

The album ends on a darker note, with the brooding short “Dialoque” (Linka, Anderson); a sparse overlay of guitar sounds on bass that invokes avant-garde rock as much as jazz.

Although living in New York, Rudy Linka is still a figure on the Czech jazz scene. He was the driving force behind the “Bohemia Jazz Festival” concerts and can often (but not often enough) be seen live on this side of the Pond. We hope to see more of him soon, as the historic twentieth anniversary of that unthinkable news from home comes inevitably closer.

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