Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gig Review: Eva Svobodová & Co.

Reduta Jazz Club

5th October 2008

Reduta is one of the most famous jazz venues in Europe. It is the place where Bill Clinton and Václav Havel played together in 1994, and the seats they took on the hard fixed benches are marked with metal badges for posterity. Pictures of the great leaders are displayed prominently amongst the photographs of jazz legends. A single event placed this joint in a consciousness larger than that of the local music fans. It is a place that everyone interested in the history of Czech jazz should visit once.

Once is about right. After that it is harder to put aside the ridiculous price of the drinks and the cloakroom attendants with troglodyte manners. If you don’t have the exact change you are stared at like you just pissed in someone’s tea. You can feel the resentment as the coins are counted out slowly and deliberately, with the severity of a dowry. Bank clerks at gunpoint have handed over the goods with more of a smile. I only go to this place if there is someone I really, really want to see. As such I returned to the historic and atmospheric but totally infuriating Reduta to see the fantastic Eva Svobodová singing with her band.

Eva’s Fine and Mellow (1995) album was featured recently on Prague Jazz: an excellent piece of work in which her voice, an intoxicating mixture of smoke and velvet, perfectly compliments the playing of Luboš Andršt’s Acoustic Set. Her current live outfit, although very different in sound, is no less suited to the songs she delivers so well. The voice is just the same however, capable of capturing both joy and sadness with equal charm.

The current band is fronted not by a guitarist but by jazz trombonist (yes, they do exist) Přemek Tomšíček. Handling the shiny beast with remarkable speed and accuracy, his blistering runs demonstrated extraordinary control of both arm and mouth. On piano Kryštof Marek was taking time away from composing, conducting and band-leading in theatres to offer his tasteful contributions. The rhythm section of František Raba (bass) and František Hönig (drums) provided experience, intelligence and interesting variations. They sounded rounded and polished, usually controlled, and certainly interesting. Substituting lead guitar for lead trombone is not a conventional move, but in this case it worked.

Each of the three sets began with a brief instrumental section before Eva stepped to the microphone. Giving the band time to stretch out a bit more than is usually possible when there is the serious business of songs to be sung, it gave a chance for them to warm up while the audience could settle down, get back from the bar, bemoan the prices, and then shut up.

Some songs from Fine and Mellow were included this evening, including “Everyday (I Have The Blues)” (P. Chatman) and “I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues” (D. Ellington). “Masquerade” (P. F. Webster) was given a splendid treatment, with an extensive instrumental workout and perfect delivery of the bittersweet lyrics. It is ordinarily hard to believe that this song is three quarters of a century old, and impossible to comprehend when it sounds so fresh, alive, and contemporary.

Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child” was recounted with the powerful yearning that the lyrics deserve, while "Agua de Beber" (A. Jobim) was all slick Latin loveliness. This is an ensemble that is as adaptable as it is convincing, being able to snap between joyful swing, desolate ballads, and cathartic blues. A brief interlude as an elastic vocals/bass/drums trio showcased Raba’s dexterity on the big strings; a teasing and light-hearted venture that delighted the Sunday evening punters.

The band, as good as they were and as good as they are in their own right, are the backdrop for Svobodová’s singing. Excellent English pronunciation (better than most Czech singers who sing in English) with just a hint of local accent create a seductive style as timeless as the songs themselves. Songs that may be from a different era and a different part of the word, but human emotions are just the same as they ever were and ever will be. By capturing that emotion, and that realness of feeling the immediacy remains across the decades and the spirit of the music blossoms still. Rare blossoms in autumnal Prague, amid the soft falling leaves and heavy falling nights.

No comments: