Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Gig Review: Luboš Andršt Group

AghaRTA Jazz Centrum
24th June 2008

With ten minutes to go the audience was getting settled in, I was halfway through a bottle of decent red, and attention was starting to turn to the cellar’s modest stage. I wondered at that point if I was the only person who knew that half the band was missing. Drums and piano were set up and in place, but where the piles of bass gear and guitars should have been there was nothing but nothing.

Thankfully a flurry of activity brought the missing musicians through the doors at the last moment: Luboš and bassist “Wimpy” Tichota had been gigging elsewhere during the afternoon, and had got caught up in the traffic jams that can sometimes snarl the roads back to Prague. A few relieved looks were shared, and amps and cables hurriedly dropped into place. So for half the band this was the second gig of the day, coming after a frustrating car journey, and with a delayed start. Not quite the perfect scenario.

One of the enjoyable things about many bands that play on this scene, including of course the LAG, is that they are still willing to push it. They are all expert musicians, and it would be easy enough for them to go out and perform a perfectly prepared repertory show with not a note out of place and all the vigour of a corpse. There is no need for them to actually break into a sweat. However, that is certainly what this outfit doesn’t do, and their opening Duke Ellington salvo was delivered with force and aggression, instantly removing any grumbles that could have been brewing in the minds of the punters. It was worth the wait, and you could sense the joint approval as each of the four men took a hefty solo before the band snatched it all back together again.

Andršt originals such as “Song for Saxophone Joe” and “La Bodiguita del Medio” got a full workout; the latter being a high-energy romp with the band wheeling and sparking like madmen over clattering Cuban rhythms. Pianist Ondřej Kabrna played with particular ferocity, hammering out the melodic patterns with total commitment, seemingly on the very far edge of control. This triumphant crescendo is always warmly received, with the small cellar space hardly seeming big enough to contain the wide spectrum of sound produced.

Luboš was his normal brilliant self on guitar; a standard that is always expected and always met. His work is notable for its wide variety of sounds, incorporating blues, jazz, and also heavy shades of rock where required. Genre-spanning and unpredictable, he is a musician with depth to call upon. It is that variety, coupled with his talents as a composer and arranger, that places him in the very top rank of European musicians. The legendary BB King respected him enough to want to play with him on stage, and that is about as high as recommendations come.

The set had evolved since I last saw this outfit, with the incorporation of the crunching “Hoochie Coochie Man” instrumental section as normally played with Michal Prokop’s Framus Five. There were also changes in the extended medley that traditionally occupies a large chunk of the second set, with themes being expanded and extemporised upon by the whole group.

Drummer and AghaRTA bossman Michal Hejna was the compere for the night, introducing the songs, the band, and quite often an element of humour. With a particular flair for Latin rhythms, his work on the traps is an integral part of this live outfit. Playing later than normal in order to make up for the delayed start, he made sure that nobody left his club feeling short-changed. It was a nice touch, but in truth not required. The LAG pack more music into a single set than some outfits manage in a lifetime. Like a hearty meal they leave you with an appetite for more in the future, but for now you are just fine.

No comments: