Sunday, December 27, 2009

CD Review: Speak Slowly

Infinite Quintet
Animal Music / ANI 014-2, 2009

Speak Slowly is the first album to be released by Infinite Quintet, but flicking through the liner notes you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Their names and faces are nothing if not familiar to anyone who frequently attends jazz gigs in Prague. Miroslav Hloucal leads the outfit on trumpet and flugelhorn, with Petr Kalfus (saxophones) and Viliam Béreš (piano) also featuring prominently. The rhythm section consists of the excellent bassist Petr Dvorský and drummer Martin Novák. A ubiquitous bunch who, if a supergroup of young Czech jazzers was to be assembled, would all be strong candidates for inclusion.

Although Hloucal wrote the majority of the compositions he does not unduly dominate proceedings. This album has a strong feeling of collaboration and the combination of talents. Hloucal plays sweetly and often with an edge of melancholy, also echoed by Kalfus. While not an especially slow recording it does have an atmosphere of contemplation that makes it seem to belong to the small hours of the morning, regardless of the time of day that it is actually played.

The first track, "Ghost Town" (V. Béreš), opens with a twangy bass rhythm and delicate drum pattern before Hloucal and Kalfus come in with a lilting melody that endures. They spend a lot of time on this album working together, two intertwining strands of sound. It works well, with the different tones of woodwind and brass contrasting nicely. There is no rush. Plenty of space is left. Béreš's solo is unhurried, even when nudged along from behind. The saxophone solo is high and nimble, the ensemble playing has depth.

"Night Callin´" (M. Hloucal) is one of the more interesting pieces on Speak Slowly. It features some delicate interplay between Béreš and Kalfus before the former teams up with Dvorský at the bottom end, providing a broken pattern over which a legato melody is layered. It is another spacey composition with all five members managing not to trip up over each other.

There are some lighter shades on this recording. "Cup of Bb" (M. Hloucal) has whimsical moments, fed by a playful piano line. "Song For P.K." (M. Hloucal) has periods that are almost strident and chaotic (in an understated sort of way), with Kalfus getting a good workout. "Gaza" (V. Béreš) swirls enjoyably, bubbling with pacey staccato attacks.

"Gone So Fast" (Petr Kalfus) is not one of the lighter shades. Dedicated by the writer to his father, it starts with ambient effects and haunting piano. Novák goes for the brushes. Emphatic and grandiose chords give way to an expressive saxophone solo. Dvorský pitches it just right when it is his chance to go alone. While the musicianship on this album is of a generally high standard it is his consistent contributions that so often stand out as worthy of note.

Hloucal steps out into the spotlight on the title track, "Speak Slowly" (M. Hloucal), stretching himself on what is ironically one of the quicker pieces. It is also ironic that it is this playing that shows up the album's weak point most clearly: it never really lets rip. It never goes balls-to-the-wall fury. There's never a point where the listener utters an involuntary curse of amazement and rewinds to listen again. The music is introspective and thoughtful and often beautiful, but there's always a feeling that it is never quite in top gear. It isn't that sort of recording.

Speak Slowly is therefore not the most exciting album in the world, but it is a satisfying début with plenty of moments to grab the attention. What it does it does well, and it will be worth following this outfit to see where it goes from here. It will also be interesting to see how their live shows develop, and what music they choose to compliment the material from the album. There is a lot of talent in this band. It is worth taking seriously.

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