Monday, October 20, 2008

Gig Review: Luboš Andršt’s 60th Birthday Concert

Lucerna Music Bar
14th October 2008

It was a decision I hoped that I would not have to make: whether to leave a Slavia hockey match a few minutes early or risk being late for Luboš Andršt’s 60th birthday gig and album launch. With one eye on the clock and one eye on the ice I constantly willed the officials to hurry up and get play moving again. The breaks lasted an eternity, the delays were measured in geological time, and those seconds never stopped ticking away. Finally, with the match against Pardubice balanced at 2:2, and with one minute to go and extra time a certainty, I cut my losses and ran for the Metro. In doing so I missed the 60th minute goal that handed Slavia a 3:2 victory. It was the first, and probably last, home goal that I will miss this season. And yet I am not bitter or angry. That tells you how good this gig was.

It was not so much a concert as a public celebration of the man’s work. The set-list featured music from different incarnations of Andršt genius. Sitting in with his usual Group musicians were some of the biggest names in Czechoslovak jazz. The audience, unlike the usual mix that you find in Prague’s jazz clubs, had come solely to listen to Luboš and were quietly attentive and noisily appreciative in the appropriate places. The Lucerna Music Bar, bigger than AghaRTA Jazz Centrum, allowed for louder and wider soundscapes: audio CinemaScope for the discerning listener. They also have pretty coloured lights and unusually good (and cheap) Pilsner Urquell.

The band began with material from their new Moment in Time album, including the re-recorded live favourite “La Bodeguita Del Medio”, sounding loose and relaxed. Michal Hejna’s enthusiastic drumming was augmented by guest percussionist Pavel Plánka, while Wimpy Tichota’s bass supplied well-amplified and satisfying funk and Ondřej Kabrna let rip with usual gusto on keys. “Series of Goodbyes”, honed live before it was recently committed to record, ended with a heavyweight guitar solo that emphatically bridged the divide between jazz, blues, and rock.

The core of the band was soon joined by charismatic saxophonist Michal Žáček, playing as usual his double-miked and effect-boxed tenor sax. The duelled solos between guitar and saxophone were especially effective on the beautiful original “Moment in Time” where Žáček demonstrated some fine whole-body playing. With the addition of Emil Viklický on piano (freeing Kabrna to add some effective synthesiser work), and Jan Hrubý on violin, the instrumental supergroup was complete. Familiarity forged over the years, and intuitive improvisation skills, meant that this new ensemble played with the conviction and surefootedness of a regular outfit, only with more smiles.

Fittingly, for such a celebratory concert, the clock was rolled back with “Paprsek ranního slunce” (“A Ray of Morning Sunlight”). Originally from the Energit LP (1975), it featured mesmerising interplay between guitar and violin, and a thumping Prog Rock slab of fusion in the middle.

The tradition of pouring champagne on a copy of the new album was observed, and there was a quick speech from the man himself, before the final guest of the night: vocalist Peter Lipa. Slovak jazz legend Lipa and Andršt worked together in the 1980s, spreading their own brand of blues, funk and jazz through two records and many live performances. “Let the Good Times Roll”, a blues standard and a sentiment that summed up the two hours of music that preceded it, was a call to party in an era when it sometimes feels like the party is over.

By combining his 60th birthday concert with the launch of his new album, Luboš Andršt looked to the past and the future at the same time. The new material shows that his writing and playing remain undimmed by the years. The old forms a repertoire that most young musicians can never even aspire to matching. His ability to not only play, but write and arrange, marks him out as one of the best guitarists in Central Europe. And when he plays it is done with feeling and depth, rather than just callow empty chops and “look at me everyone” posturing. All this and more, plus the rare sight of him jamming with the likes of Emil Viklický, made it truly a night to savour.

I’m sure that goal wasn’t a good one anyway…

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