Sunday, November 29, 2009

CD Review: Invisible World

Tomáš Liška
Animal Music / ANI 015-2, 2009

There are many new, younger artists currently making music on the Czech jazz scene, including bass player Tomáš Liška. He's a busy guy, appearing on recordings by the likes of Matej Benko, Nika Diamant and Radek Krampl. He also plays live alongside Lenka Dusilová in the Eternal Seekers, and with award-winning quartet Points. Now he has a solo album out, Invisible World, and it is something rather different.

Invisible World was recorded with a trio of Liška on bass, David Dorůžka on (mainly acoustic) guitars and Daniele di Bonaventura on bandoneón. To save you all a trip to Wikipedia, the bandoneón is a concertina-type instrument, invented in Germany but now associated with Argentinian dance bands. There are some additional contributions - Marta Topferova sings on one track and Tomáš Reindl plays percussion on two - but apart from that it is just the three of them making music together.

What they have created with Invisible World is an intricate and intimate album. The studio-recorded tracks have a live feel about them, but it is the feel of a fireside or a chamber concert rather than one played in a large hall. It is mellow and poignant, blending jazz with touches of folk, country and tango. Each note is played to be heard, not lost in a solid structure of sound. It's a contemplative album, with spacey arrangements that allow the music to breathe.

The first track, “Bonami” (T. Liška), gives a clear idea of what this album is about. Acoustic guitar picks at a clear, Latin-tinged melody, Liška plays tight and syncopated melodic bass, and di Bonaventura adds the drawl of bandoneón, occasionally running in unison with Dorůžka and occasionally taking the lead. The acoustically sensitive recording conveys the impression of music being created at close quarters: a clear sense of fingers pulling on strings and hitting buttons.

Liška is a strong presence on the album, occasionally going for the burn with a solo but mostly leading from the back. He's always working there, throwing in interesting patterns and tones, never settling for being pedestrian. The lack of a drummer means that it is often his work that keeps the beat and suggests structure. It also means that there is more space from him to manoeuvre as a one-man rhythm section, and so he can stretch out comfortably without being intrusive or clashing with anyone else at the low end. It is his bass patterns that keep driving things forward, emerging to provide extra emphasis and withdrawing when not required. It was a brave decision by the bassist to record like this, rather than with a conventional Trio or Quartet, but he handles it with style and maturity.

“Alegría en masca” (T. Liška) and “Silent Talking” (T. Liška) both feature Tomáš Reindl on tabla and udu, lending them even more of a "world music" feel. The former is a legato slice of yearning, and the use of sweet and simple electric guitar as well as percussion gives it a bigger band feel. The latter begins slower and simpler, very bass driven, with the other instruments echoing and complimenting the thick, twangy notes before rising up in elegant ensemble playing.

It is not all slow stuff on this album: “Nihemiah” (T. Liška) lifts the pace, and “Strade deserte a Praga” (D. di Bonaventura) is a brief (1:11) shimmering interlude. “River Way” (T. Liška) rolls along like its name suggests, and again features some good interplay between acoustic guitar and bandoneón. This device, rarely found on a a Czech jazz album, works as a lead instrument as well as being able to provide sharp chordal accompaniment and elongated washes of sound.

“Tierra de mis padres” (“The Land of my Parents”, T. Liška / M.Topferova) is complemented by brooding, breathy Spanish vocals from Marta Topferova. It reeks of Latin tragedy and the call of destiny: longing, sunsets, regrets, returning to home to die, the usual sort of stuff.

“Etheric Moments I.” (T. Liška) is the longest track and it brings the album to a fitting conclusion. It contains the same mix of sadness and celebration that permeates the whole recording. There are shifts in mood and theme, sometimes rich and sometimes sparse, sometimes gentle and sometimes dissonant, and it is perhaps the most musically challenging piece in this collection. The big-finish cliché is eschewed, the final bow consciously understated

In some respects this album is not what you would expect from a Czech jazz musician. Invisible World sounds more influenced by South America than by Central Europe, and while it contains strong jazz elements it not the most straightforward album to classify. It is pleasant music to have on in the background without offending anyone, but with close listening the fine details of craftsmanship make themselves known. Invisible World is also interesting, innovative, technically superior, and a satisfying listen. In that respect it is exactly what you would expect from a Czech jazz musician. For his début album Tomáš Liška has not taken the safe option. I, for one, like that.

Full track listing:

1."Bonami" (T. Liška)
2.“Colour For You” (T. Liška)
3.“Alegría en masca” (T. Liška)
4.“Silent Talking” (T. Liška)
5.“Nihemiah” (T.Liška)
6.“Tierra de mis padres” (T. Liška / M. Topferova)
7.“The Truth About Unspeakable Things (T. Liška)
8.“River Way” (T. Liška)
9.“Strade deserte a Praga” (D.di Bonaventura)
10.“Forever Lost” (D.Dorůžka)
11.“Long Time Ago” (T. Liška)
12.“Etheric Moments I.” (T. Liška)

Free samples of this album can be found on both the Animal Music and the Tomáš Liška websites.

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