Wednesday, December 31, 2008

GigTips: January 2009

And so we go on into a new year, and what can be the coldest month in the calendar. Dressing for jazz can be a bit of a challenge when the temperature never rises above freezing. Remember to wrap up warm for the journey but make sure you can take most of it off when you are in the club otherwise you will suffer: Prague’s jazz clubs are not known for their airy coolness!

On a similar practical note do watch out if you decide to take a taxi home because it is too cold to wait for a night-tram. Reputable taxis can be picked up at the “Fair Place” ranks or by calling AAA Taxis (233 113 311) who speak English and are usually quick and reliable.

So now you know how to dress and how to get back, you only have to decide who you want to see!

This month we are going to concentrate on artists who are regularly featured on this website. They represent some of the best music talent out there, and are perfect gigs for occasional and regular jazz fans alike.

We will start the year at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum, with the delightful folk-jazzer Pavla Milcová (4/1), the Luboš Andršt Group (13, 14/1), the Emil Viklický Trio (21/1) and the Robert Balzar Trio (29/1). All these gigs will be of the highest quality and come with our enthusiastic recommendation.

If you want to see more of one of Europe’s best jazz and blues guitarists, Luboš will also be playing with his Blues Band at the Charles Bridge Jazz Club (11, 18, 23, 30/1), another highly recommended experience.

At USP Jazz Lounge this month there is the chance to hear two of the best female vocalists on the Prague scene, with Veronika Diamant (13/1) and Miriam Bayle (11, 22, 23, 30/1), and thunderous pianist Karel Růžička will also be passing through with his Trio (15/1).

This is of course just a handful of what is on offer, so please follow the Music Clubs links to see what else is happening. Remember to book in advance in order to be sure of a place, and do tell the venue that you saw the gig listed here on Prague Jazz.

May your 2009 be as prosperous as it is musical!

Gig Review: Michal Prokop & Framus Five

Divadlo Archa
19th December 2008

Christmas in Prague means many things to many people. To some it means the smell of mulled wine and roasting chestnuts drifting over from bustling market stalls. To others it means choosing an oversized tree and hauling it home on the tram. To many it means trying not to fall into the tanks of live carp when drunk. To us at Prague Jazz it means all of these and more, and in the more we must include Michal Prokop’s Christmas gigs. A full length concert interwoven with special guests is what we’ve come to expect, and unlike many under-tree promises that turn out to be socks or hankies, it is never a disappointment.

Before the emails of complaint come flying in, we know that strictly (or even loosely) speaking Prokop isn’t a jazzer. But within his blend of rock, blues, soul and folk there are some jazzy moments. In his band are the virtuoso violinist Jan Hrubý and a guitarist called Luboš Andršt who can play a bit: real music played by real musicians. Their intermittent work together over the years has an iconic place in Czech popular music, and their current performances are joyous and exuberant affairs. With his other lives in politics and television Prokop could easily have turned into a caricature, a one-man “celebrity” variety show. Instead, when he takes to the stage, he is still 100% musician.

This concert not only celebrated Christmas but also the sixtieth birthday in 2008 of both Hrubý and Andršt. It was therefore fitting that they opened the show, together with Prokop who turned sixty two years ago, as their “unplugged” acoustic trio. Normally only seen during short sets at festivals, it was an unexpected treat to hear their staples “Rain” (J. Feliciano) and “Miss July” (P. Skoumal, P. Šrut).

There is usually some young talent showcased during these concerts, and this year it was the turn of Jana Šteflíčková. A folky songstress with a strong voice, she impressed the audience with her acoustic guitar technique, providing her own percussion with some hefty string-slapping. She is definitely worth watching out for in the future.

Next up were Kukulín, Celtic folk-rockers led by none other than Jan Hrubý, who hardly left the stage all evening in what was to be a marathon performance. He is never the most boring person to watch onstage, enthusiastically transferring his thoughts and feelings to the strained strings like Paganini on lager. As bandleader he was even more animated than ever, on his feet and jigging away through some stunning solos and euphoric ensemble playing. It was hard to believe that he, as with Prokop and Andršt, could possibly be sixty.

More defiance of the years came next, with the emergence of two more legends of Czech music, singer-songwriter Vladimír Mišík and veteran Blue Effect guitarist Radim Hladík. Another two gentlemen who by standard convention should be telling us to keep the noise down rather than making the noise themselves, they teamed up with Hrubý for a rousing blast of “Šmajdák a ploužáky” (V. Mišík, V. Merta) before being joined onstage by Prokop and Andršt. Collectively the five musicians have over two hundred years of playing experience, which is why they sound so damn good. An extended blues number with solos all round ended the first half of the concert, with the crowd enthralled by the sight and sound of the some country’s best known musicians jamming together.

After an interval to rid the stage of all extraneous gear it was time for Prokop to take the stage with his electric band for the main part of the concert, although few would argue that we’d had our money’s worth already. Everyone was thoroughly warmed up so classics like “Kolej Yesterday” (P. Skoumal, P. Šrut) and the rousing anthem “Blues o spolykaných slovech” (M. Prokop, J. Žáček) went down a storm. As is now usual a bulk of the set came from the Poprvé naposledy album (2006). Widely seen as Prokop’s renaissance and return to the musical first division after his time in politics, the newer tracks from this record sit easily with the older material. “Virtuální realita” (L. Andršt, P. Šrut), a powerful straight-ahead rocker came off especially well, as did the violin-driven “Zloději času” (P. Skoumal, P. Šrut).

Rhythm was provided by Wimpy Tichota on bass and Pavel Razím on drums, a pairing who work together often and keep things both innovative and tight. It would have been nice to see these two younger statesmen of the Prague jazz scene given some room to solo, but that honour seemed to be reserved for those who were sixty or over. They were all joined for one song, “Hotel u přístavu (L. Andršt, P. Šrut)”, by young jazz singer Markéta Foukalová. Duetting with Prokop like on the album original, they exchanged lines while Luboš ran honey-sweet jazz guitar phrases behind them.

The finale was an explosive sprawl through the talents of great instrumentalists. It had been a long and fun night, and it is fair to say that not everyone concerned was entirely sober, and it was Christmas and time to rock. Andršt led the way with a delicious slide solo at the end of Loučení (P. Skoumal, P. Šrut), then we had the two usual blues numbers, “Boom Boom” (J. L. Hooker) and Hoochie Coochie Man” (W. Dixon). Both contained furious duels between guitar and violin, underneath which pulsated a churning blues groove pumped out by Tichota and Razím. Prokop’s attempts to end the instrumental section and finish his lyrics were amusingly frustrated by the soloists who for a long time couldn’t quite bring themselves to quit. The encore of “Noc je můj den” (L. Andršt, M. Bláha), was even more wonderfully chaotic with the guest appearance of Radim Hladík. If two soloists can cause trouble for a bandleader trying to control things then three of them are a nightmare. The rolling melody turned into a battle for the best lick of the night that only ended when the house lights were put on and everyone else was leaving the stage. The winner of this contest was undoubtedly…

Well, the winner was us really, the audience treated to the sight and sound of such luminaries playing together and playing with a free hand. It was a display of creativity rather than a recital of the script and, like the evening as a whole, a reminder that prolonged success in the industry need not kill off the spontaneity, creativity and excitement of making music. Technical skill, charismatic stagecraft, historic collaborations and emotional playing all combined to make a very special Christmas present for all who were there

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Here at Prague Jazz we wish all our readers, both regular and occasional, a very Merry Christmas.

Over the past year the site has grown in size and popularity, thanks in no small part to artists, club owners, and other associated people on the Prague music scene. Your support, information, tickets and albums have been much appreciated.

This site was started because of my conviction that the music scene in this city is truly special and deserves as much recognition and exposure as possible. The last year of releases and gigs has made me even more resolute in this belief, and hopefully 2009 will be a good year for both jazz in Prague and Prague Jazz.

We will be starting off the new year with reviews of Michal Prokop’s very special Christmas concert, Blues Grooves by the Luboš Andršt Blues Band, and also classic albums by Emil Viklický and Pavla Milcová. There will be news of exciting concerts and releases when we get it, our monthly GigTips, and more exclusive photos and video clips. Please join us in 2009 for another great year of music.

Veselé Vánoce a šťastný nový rok.

Tony Emmerson

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Gig Review: Luboš Andršt Blues Band

Charles Bridge Jazz Club
6th December 2008

It is always interesting to see things for the first time. This time there were two firsts for the price of one. It was Prague Jazz’s first visit to the new Charles Bridge Jazz Club, and also our first look at the current incarnation of the ever-evolving Luboš Andršt Blues Band.

The Charles Bridge Jazz Club is a pleasing addition to the local scene. It is a bit of a squeeze for everyone to fit around the tables, but the close packing gives it the sort of front parlour intimacy that a good jazz venue should have. There is also a decently sized bar area, so those who wish to ignorantly talk over great music can do so without irritating everyone else. The atmosphere is friendly and the prices are reasonable for its location, almost literally in the shadow of Prague’s most famous landmark (excluding Darling Cabaret). Unlike some places in this city it feels like a real music venue rather than a tourist trap, and that is the most important thing for those of us who are real music enthusiasts rather than gormless travellers.

As well as a good venue a good evening requires a good band, and the Luboš Andršt Blues Band certainly falls into this category. We here at Prague Jazz are proud fans of the mighty Luboš and the musicians he usually plays with. With him for this concert were perennially funky electric bassist Wimpy Tichota, drum powerhouse Pavel Razím, and Jan Holeček on keys and vocals.

What the band delivered was three sets of hard-hitting electric blues, ranging from gospel spirituals to a rocking blast of “Cross Road Blues” (R. Johnson). Their arrangement was very close to the Cream interpretation that has become known as the definitive version to many people. Luboš’s improvised solo was dazzling, while Holeček wailed the lyrics with passion. His voice is very similar to a young Robert Plant, and he could no doubt make a good living in a Led Zeppelin tribute band if he was so inclined.

The rhythm section spent the night having a fun old time in the corner. Tichota and Razím have played together for many years, developing an instinctive communication that allows them to manoeuvre the music through a maze of twists and turns without ever breaking stride. Pavel forsook the “big kit” school of drumming, using only a snare with brushes, a kick drum, and a hi-hat. From this three piece collection he produced a surprisingly wide palette of sounds and some furious solos, sending a brush flying in his frenzy. Wimpy also unleashed some fine slapping solos from his Fender Jazz bass. Their constant interplay and asides showed a band that was really enjoying performing, and this came across strongly all night.

Andršt’s guitar work was the undoubted highlight of the concert. Whenever the band paused to make room for one of his solos there was a noticeable air of anticipation. We all knew that something great was about to be set free and he never disappointed. With both great technical skill and great feeling he guided his red Strat through the curves and contours of his imagination. Sometimes flashy, sometimes simple, but always in the best possible taste, his playing held the audience spellbound. During “Cross Road Blues” there was nobody in the room that missed Clapton, and the finale of “Hey Joe” (B. Roberts) was electrifying, sending shivers down spines and eliciting hearty cheers.

There are a lot of good nights out for the serious music fan in Prague, but the regular appearances of the Luboš Andršt Blues Band at the Charles Bridge Jazz Club must currently rank amongst the best. They don’t seem to make real guitar gods anymore, the old-school axe-men who let the strings do the talking. So make sure you go and see Luboš for he is one of the last of the old guard, a bluebood guitarist who can still make the magic happen.

Monday, December 1, 2008


In the Prague Jazz inbox last month was an email from writer and journalist Doug Ramsey. An internationally respected voice on jazz, he is a fellow enthusiast of the Czech music that we at Prague Jazz HQ love so much. Doug’s blog, Rifftides, is a must-read for those who are interested in all things jazz. The URL is and it can also be reached through our links below.

GigTips: December 2008

The final month of the year is here, and with it the Christmas lights, Christmas markets, Christmas hot wine, and Christmas excuses to go to a jazz club. If you’re over in Prague for the season then you know what you should do. Similarly, if you have guests staying over, they’d love a dose of Czech musical heritage.

If all this news of new Emil Viklický albums has got you wanting to see the man himself then get down to AghaRTA Jazz Centrum where he will be playing with his Trio (14/12). If on the other hand you fancy a bit of guitar genius then the Luboš Andršt Group are also gracing the AJC stage (3/12).

If you’d like to see Luboš with his Blues Band then you can catch them at the new Charles Bridge Jazz Club (5, 6, 13, 14, 20, 21, 30, 31 /12) – a feast of dates including the chance to see in 2009 with a Czech music legend.

Another residency worth catching is by exciting Hammond organist Ondřej Pivec at USP Jazz Lounge, playing with his Organic Quartet (22, 28, 29 /12), with singer Betty Lee (24, 26, 27 /12) and the Petr Kalfus Trio (23, 25/12). Also at USP this month are the Robert Balzar Trio (10/12) and the ever-innovative pianist Beata Hlavenková (9/12).

They’re a hard working lot, our Prague Jazzers, putting in Christmas and New Year shows when most people are off work, off duty, and off their faces. So if you do go and see one of these festive gigs then spare a thought for the guys (and dolls) on stage. Buy their albums as Christmas presents for your friends. Put down your peanuts and listen during the quiet bits. Shield and sheath your flashguns. Or just offer to buy them a drink.

Remember to check with the venues to confirm that there have been no changes, and book ahead to be sure of a table. And do remember to tell them that you saw the gig listed here.

News: Viklický Album Updates

Label news from Emil:

The collection of early work will be released on the Vampisoul label,

The trio collaboration with Mraz and Nash will be released on on Venus Records, If they carry on their recent trend in album covers we here at Prague Jazz are excited about the whole package.

Thanks again to Emil for keeping us informed. What we have just realised is that it was his 60th birthday in November, so a belated Happy Birthday to the man himself.