Sunday, November 16, 2008

Feature: Žižkov Meets Jazz

The underground warren of Palác Akropolis once again played host to the annual Žižkov Meets Jazz music festival, and Prague Jazz was there for the opening evening. Over two nights it was possible to see some big names in Czech jazz, and also younger up-and-coming outfits, for a bargain price. Tickets bought in advance were only 120CZK, and even in this post-credit-crunch world that is not a hefty cost. As an added sweetener there were selections of whiskeys and cigars available for free at the beginning of the night, and it was easily possible to smoke and drink yourself into a net profit on the evening. Sadly not many of the cigars were fired up instantly, although there was still a pleasing affluent fug around some of the tables.

The first of the two main acts was Veronika Diamant with her new Sofajazz project. The name may suggest “lounge music” as found in the world’s worst best hotels but do not be deceived. Darker and more powerful than the outfit she had with her in concert last year it benefited immensely from the addition of piano to the previous guitar/bass/drums arrangement. Song-led, but with interesting instrumental passages, they put together a confident set. Some of her older standards made it through, such as the Czech version of “Jersey Girl” (Tom Waits) and “It Ain't Necessarily So” (Gershwin / Gershwin), but there was also a lot of new material. Diamant’s voice sounded stronger and more expressive than ever and hopefully there is a lot more to come from her and Sofajazz.

During the break between main sets the young Latin-influenced outfit Zeurítia played in the adjoining small hall, leaving just enough time for people to return to their seats for the second main act, Polish-Cuban vocalist Yvonne Sánchez. Playing with a stripped down acoustic band, with just percussion and acoustic guitar, she gave a sensitive yet gutsy performance that delighted the sold-out Akropolis. Including pieces from her recent My Garden album, she sang in both Czech and English with equal beauty. Pedro Tagliani did a good job on guitar, even generating a searing “electric” solo from his acoustic axe using an effects box, much to the confusion of those who do not understand such oral alchemy.

Zeurítia played a final brief set in the small hall to end the night. It was good that all the tickets for this event were sold. Hopefully this will ensure that the annual Žižkov Meets Jazz festival not only continues, but also continues attracts the sort of sponsors who merrily will dole out Scotch and stogies to happy jazz fans.

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