Saturday, July 26, 2008

CD Review: Emil Viklický Trio

Ballads And More
ARTA F10161, 2008

It is tempting to compare Ballads and More to the Robert Balzar Trio’s Tales. They are both new albums by virtuoso piano-bass-drum trios. They were both eagerly anticipated and they were both released within a couple of months of each other. Both trios are highly regarded not only on the local scene but also on the international stage. And, descending into the world of the subjective and personal, I like them both. However, such comparisons are unworthy and inappropriate, because these are two very different albums that do two very different things.

Ballads and More does what it says on the label. This is mainly an album of slowies, with all but two of the thirteen tracks being standards. This is no firebrand opus, but none of the musicians involved has anything to prove as writers or as the possessors of lightening chops. A listen to their previous recordings swiftly reveals their ability to jam wildly with the best in the land. What we have here is a mature, considered and reflective recording, by a trio who are capable of mature and considered reflection. It works as a late night album that you can let just wash over you as you go back to the bottle for yet another final glass, but for the keen and active listener there is much intricacy to excite and delight.

Opening with Pat Metheny’s “Always And Forever” the tone is instantly set. Long and languid, and with a yearning that befits the title, Viklický provides elegiac piano. František Uhlíř takes a similarly liquid solo on acoustic bass, and the whole thing is underpinned by the subtle and thoughtful work of Laco Tropp on drums. A brush here, a rolled cymbal there; his sticksmanship is a work of selfless understatement.

“I Fall In Love Too Easily” (J Styne, S Cahn) is yet another invite to comparison with Tales; an album that also features an interpretation this piece. Gentle dissonance brings in the main theme, and more mellowness ensues. Viklický’s playing, sometimes deceptively simple when given a superficial listen because of his easy and masterful delivery, leads and follows and falls and flourishes.

“Dedicated to You” (S Cahn, S Chaplin, H Zaret) picks up the pace a little, and for the first time on this album it is apparent how Uhlíř has picked up the tag of “the Paganini of the bass”. However the standout track has to be the Viklický original “Highlands, Lowlands”. Always a great moment in their live set, this composition has lost little of its vigour and glory in being captured on tape. By the standards of this album it is an upbeat romp; a gorgeous undulating lyrical landscape with cascading chiming piano and phrases that many writers would sell their soul to be able to conjure up. Purposely playful, serious fun, and with all three musicians on full burn, this piece is definitely the More that the album title promises. Even Tropp steps out of the sidelines for a brief solo, before piano and bass come crashing back in for an ecstatic release. Even if balladry isn’t really your bag, this one cut is worth the cost of the album alone.

The other original piece on the album is by the bassist. “Maybe Later” is a jaunty and compact little number that allows Uhlíř to share the spotlight with Viklický in driving the melody forward. Almost in the same class as “Highlands, Lowlands”, these two pieces add variety to an album that could otherwise be a little too uniform in mood for its own good.

“Polka Dots and Moonbeams” (J Van Heusen, J Burke) is given a particularly affecting outing, and “When The Sun Comes Out” (H Arlen, T Koehler) shifts things into a sleazy, bluesy key.

The album ends with “Smile”: composed by Charlie Chaplin (and popularised as a song with lyrics by Geoffrey Parsons and John Turner), it provides the perfect bitter-sweet finale. As with all the standards on this album it is interpreted with originality and innovation, with the simple and timeless melody yielding to ferocious improvisations before winding down to a sweet and tender finish.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, this album will appeal to those who like jazz ballads. Others could find themselves yearning for a little more variety, but the two original tracks should provide that in an ample amount. It is not a rounded representation of this multi-dimensional band but it does not claim to be. Instead it is an exploration of a sometimes overlooked aspect of jazz, where pyrotechnics are not required and feeling is everything.

Full track list:

Always And Forever / Pat Metheny 4:04
I Fall In Love Too Easily / Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn 5:38
Dedicated To You / Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, Hy Zaret 5:31
Highlands, Lowlands / Emil Viklický 7:18
Coral / Keith Jarrett 4:04
A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing / Billy Strayhorn 4:46
Peacocks / Jimmy Rowles 7:03
Maybe Later / František Uhlíř 5:17
Polka Dots And Moonbeams / James Van Heusen, Johnny Burke 4:38
When The Sun Comes Out / Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler 5:13
Leaving / Richie Beirach 5:55
All Of You / Cole Porter 5:40
Smile / Charles Chaplin, Geoffrey Parsons, John Turner 4:22.

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