Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Gig Review: Ondřej Pivec / Petr Kalfus Trio

Jazz Dock
5th July 2009

Gigs often leave an overriding impression, something about them that really stands out during the night and dominates memories. Sometimes they are historic, sometimes they are outstandingly beautiful. Sometimes you see technical wizardry that makes your fingers hurt just by watching it. Sometimes it is serious and dark and sometimes it is all a bit of a giggle. Sometimes, as was the case this time, it is all about energy. That is not to say that there wasn't virtuoso playing or moments of spine-tingling “rightness” or any of the other good things, but boy was it turbo charged. From opening number to the encore (half past one, the next morning) this band never seemed to let up for an instant.

The Trio was fronted by superb young saxophonist Petr Kalfus, a player who combines the ability to knock out lightening runs with subtlety and a sense of melody. He handles his horn with good taste and, even in the wilds of improvisation, maintains a sense of purpose that keeps the music moving forward.

Ondřej Pivec on Hammond organ made sure that there was plenty of width to the sound, playing melody, left hand bass, and also dancing his feet over the bass pedals. The Hammond is an instrument of restrained power, with one firm full-on blast being all that is needed to leave the front rows of the audience with bleeding ears. Pivec is a true organist, not just a pianist or keyboard player transplanted onto the instrument, and shows a real understanding of how the Hammond works. He's constantly in control of the sound, changing its texture and washing it in and out using a volume pedal.

The regular Trio was completed by drummer Martin Novák, a sensitive and listening player who complimented the work of others instead of ploughing on straight through. His solos were hot, but it was the shifting, sliding, responsive rhythms during ensemble playing that really stood out. The fourth member of the "Trio" was a special guest, acclaimed guitarist and recent returnee from Canada, Petr Zelenka.

Together they formed a tight outfit, pumping out the material with gusto. Kalfus and Zelenka are both physically expressive players, losing themselves in the music as their solos climaxed. There was room for everyone to step out but also some satisfying moments of four-way cooperation. Pivec's rumbling bass notes gave soloists something to soar above. Sax and guitar merged and blended well with each other, the latter being lyrical and smooth at some times, sharp and angular at others.

The band took on some challenging material and delivered it well. Joe Henderson's Inner Urge and Wayne Shorter's Night Dreamer are not the easiest ones in the book to play but they were convincing and enjoyable, interpreted by this hard blowing combo that attacks with style. The tempo was mainly fast and furious, but even when it stepped down a notch the underlying energy remained, generated by the sense of a band having fun.

Some cute variations were thrown in, making sure that the show never got dull. There was a dark, sinister soundscape created by muted organ, guitar, and Novák squeaking the metals. The few ballads were duly balladic and, intentional or not, the playing of a dark smoky number at the stroke of midnight was a neat touch. Nothing says midnight like mellow legato solos and brushes, and it fitted the candlelit tables and waterfront location perfectly.

It was another good gig at the Jazz Dock, a sort of club that is suited to this sort of music. The volume was loud enough to drown out the occasional chatter of posers at the bar and the shaking of iced cocktails. The cool sounds of sax and organ fitted the cool atmosphere of the room, a room that feels like a small piece of New York City moved east. Above all it was good to see a young band playing with so much maturity and flair. While the performance contained many traditional elements this was not jazz by numbers: it was exciting, energetic and very enjoyable.

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