Saturday, September 20, 2008

CD Review: Eva Svobodová feat. Luboš Andršt Acoustic Set

Fine and Mellow

Multisonic 31 0334-2, 1995

There are lots of very good albums in the world, and the Czech jazz scene probably has a disproportionate number of them. Some are better than others, but it is hard to find a real stinker. However, despite the consistently high quality of the music being produced in this country, there are occasionally albums that really stand out. Even for the listener who now has his quality threshold raised above his hairline due to an over-exposure of greatness there are still some treats out there waiting to be discovered. Fine and Mellow is such an album: a jewel of note in the very sparkly crown.

The album features established Czech singer Eva Svobodová backed by Andršt’s acoustic-orientated band. It oozes class and style. The musicianship is splendid. Eva’s smoky vocals provide a charged thrill verging on the erotic. Luboš eases out the curve of each note with such perfect proportion that Michelangelo's statue of David seems clunky and half-arsed in comparison. The band hums, sings, jiggles, sprawls, attacks, tenses and releases. The choice of songs is striking, original, and totally lovely. It is an album by grown-ups and for grown-ups, but it can still induce the childish joy of virginal discovery. As a package it satisfies in a way so complete that it shouldn’t belong to the modern world. Yes. It is very good.

“I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues” (D. Ellington / D. George) kicks in with Eva to the fore, caressing her way through a languid lament, while the Acoustic Set capture a late night mood of gentle sleaze. Andršt contributes a solo that is as sweet as honey and expressive as a Frenchman in love (although with better taste). Its laidback and slinky feel is indicative of the album as a whole: sophisticated and intelligent, sweet and wordly.

“Masquerade” (J. Loeb / P. F. Webster) opens with some jaunty vibes from Radek Krampl, and is an upbeat treatment of this standard. Instead of wallowing in darkness this is a vivacious and flirty romp, with Krampl also offering up a fine solo later on. The next track, “Black Coffee” (P. F. Webster / F. J. Burke) is a bluesier affair, featuring Štěpán Markovič on tenor saxophone. One of the local scene’s most respected sax-wallahs, Markovič accentuates and highlights the melody with airy phrases that complement Eva’s velvet voice and Luboš’s gentle phrasing.

Everyday (I Have The Blues) (P. Chapman) dates from Depression-era Chicago and features some sterling acoustic bass work from Petr Dvorský, firstly underlying a fine solo shared between Markovič and Andršt, and then moving to the front in his own right. The next number, “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” (C. Mingus / J. Mitchell), is probably the standout track on this album. Dark and shifting, this classic Mingus composition gives the band plenty to think about and they prove themselves to be more than up to the job. Andršt seizes the guitar lines, and in doing so adds himself to the list of guitar greats who have made the solo in this piece their own. Sad and sweet, with the occasional blistering run than he makes sound so easy, it is understated brilliance. Meanwhile Eva interprets Mitchell’s lyrics with empathy and panache.

“Same Ol’ Story” (B. Ighner) is a pulsating and feel-good piece that lists the common threads that bind humanity together. It has plenty of room for the band to flex and explore, and in doing so they give the song a satisfying depth that it would otherise lack.

“Only Women Bleed” (V. Furnier / D. Wagner) has had many lives, including being recorded by rocker Alice Cooper, and here it lives again. Svobodová delivers a mixture of wryness and sadness in the words, while chiming vibes punctuate and an usually raspy guitar contrasts with sweet soprano saxophone. Meanwhile “A Night in Tunisia” (D. Gillespie / L. Robin) is a twisty Latin-influenced affair, with Jaromír Helešic coming out of the shadows on drums with some flashy licks.

“All Blues” (M. Davis) is a catchy standard with its mesmerising six-eight bass motif. Over this Eva layers and stretches her vocals, and band and singer swirl and sway together in a circular lilting celebration that could go on forever and still be too short. Finally the album ends with the title track, “Fine and Mellow” (B. Holliday). It is one final blast of verve; a fitting end to a triumphant recording.

Fine and Mellow is one of those special albums that can take you by surprise. Its agenda is not particularly radical, and yet it is a collection of songs that sound fresh, new and exciting. A classy delight, this is a rare piece of Czech jazz that it is worth seeking out.

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