Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gig Review: Rhythm Desperados

AghaRTA Jazz Centrum
28th July 2009

Turning on the television or reading a newspaper can bring you down. Swine flu, terrorism, floods, droughts, economic chaos, unemployment, the enduring appeal of Oasis: everything's total rubbish. Sometimes it feels like there is no fun left in the world. But then something comes along to remind you that, against all odds, there actually there is: Rhythm Desperados.

This is not a reversal of policy at PJHQ - we're still music snobs of the highest order - but outfits that can combine excellent original writing, interesting arranging, superb playing, and still fool around on the stage joyously are sadly few and far between. As such they deserve all the attention they can get.

The band is based round a core of Boris Urbánek (keys), Michal Žáček (saxes and flute) and Michal Hejna (drums). Bass and percussion duties are more flexible, with Martin Lehký and Pavel Plánka often filling the roles but for this gig it was Imran Musa Zangi hitting things like a nutter and Wimpy Tichota taking care of the low end. All of them are fine musicians, playing in a wide variety of bands. When they come together as Rhythm Desperados it is almost a “supergroup” of modern Czech jazz, although the term is not really correct. Supergroups tended to collapse under the weight of their own egos and the whole was often less than the sum of the parts. This is certainly not what happens with this band.

The first set was straight down the line, focusing mainly on original work composed by the talented Urbánek. Žáček leads from the front, an emotive whole-body player who really makes the instrument sing and uses the range of the soprano saxophone well. His solos were intense and instinctive, real crazy knife-edge stuff, but they were always placed naturally into the songs and never uncomfortably stuck on to prove a point. The keyboard solos were pretty intense too, again dispensed with good taste as well as fast fingers.

The rhythm section was certainly not being shown up while all this was going on, playing very fast and very furious. "Volcano" (B. Urbánek) featured both drummer and percussionist thrashing away like mad while tension was built up using synthesiser rumbles and swooshes. Tichota, as well as putting bounce into the funky sound, also had some really sweet moments such as in "First Snow" (B. Urbánek), playing melodic bass runs in unison with rolling piano.

The overall tempo was fast and upbeat, moments of funk and moments of fusion, with some Latin flavours too. It was a good mix of sounds, cohesive but with enough variation to be interesting. There were also gentler times during the show, such as the romantic "Déjà vu" (B. Urbánek), but celebratory rather than contemplative was the order of the day.

The second set was where the fun broke loose. An opening piano and flute duet that deviated into The Big Country. "Sunny" (B. Hebb) was given a lively presentation with gaps left for the audience to sing the “I love you” line. That then turned into a medley that incorporated Für Elise, Bésame Mucho and Popcorn. All with tongue very firmly in cheek of course, the band having previously set out its impeccable artistic credentials and now at complete liberty to screw around. The crowd loved it, although I do wish that audiences in general were as receptive to original, exciting music as they always are to stuff they've heard on the radio.

The club was pretty full considering that it was a midweek gig, and as usual for AghaRTA most people were there to listen. There are always exceptions, in this case a few French persons who drank small coffees and had big mouths. A couple of dirty looks did the trick, and pretty soon they were fully collaborating. But if you want to talk why get a table right at the front, right by the stage? As well as disrupting the music for others it is just rude to the band, an especially odd thing to do when the garlic gang were actually enjoying the show.

The remainder of the evening wasn't just fooling around with familiar numbers: there was more original material to come, including “All Or Nothing”, that Urbánek told us he wrote a quarter of a century ago. Regardless of age it sounded fresh, something that could be said about the Rhythm Desperados in general, and also about their stomping version of “Birdland” (J. Zawinul). Big and meaty, properly loud, and the band having a ball.

Watching this outfit was half the pleasure. Zangi's work on percussion was relentless, only interrupted when he reached down to pull out yet another stick, block, shaker, thing that goes boing, or a cocktail. Žáček's total commitment to his playing was spectacular, and Urbánek is no slouch either; some excellent playing from him as well as a lot of enthusiasm, getting the audience clapping along and generally looking like he was enjoying himself.

The Rhythm Desperados are an interesting and unusual band. There are some groups in this city that pursue creative excellence and there are some that just set out to entertain. These guys prove that the two are not mutually exclusive. It was hard not to be impressed by their musicianship and the original compositions. It was also hard not to smile. Go and see them. It's probably more fun than anything else you've got planned.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

News: AghaRTA Open Air Concerts

This year's AghaRTA Open Air Concerts will take place on August 1st and 2nd, in the beautiful setting of Prague's Old Town Square. The performances are between 14:00 and 20:00 each day, feature some of the big names of Czech jazz (including Jan Štolba, Štěpán Markovič, Pavel Razím, Rhythm Desperados), and are totally free. These gigs are always a special event so come along if you can.

The full details can be found here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

News: Emil Viklický Album Release Date

Hot news from the man himself: The new Emil Viklický Trio album, Sinfonietta - Janáček Of Jazz, will be out on October 29th, 2009.

The prospect of this record is causing no little excitement here at PJHQ - obviously we will post review of the album as soon as we get our hands on it!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Emil Viklický London Review

There was a very interesting review of the recent concert at which Emil appeared alongside two Swedish acts, marking the handover of the European Union presidency. It was published in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper: you can read it it here. Emil may not have been the headline act but he was the star of the show!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Photos From The Organic DVD Recording

Here are some pictures from the recent DVD recording at Divadlo Disk on 16/7, courtesy of photographer Patrick Marek.

Apology: A Mess of Emails!

For some reason Blogger published some of my emails as postings on this site. I am not sure how it happened and will be checking the security settings on my machine. I have now removed the mess of emails: please be assured that this site is NOT becoming a feast of spam!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Organic DVD Recording

Last night (16/7) saw the much awaited concert by Ondřej Pivec and friends, recorded for DVD release by Animal Music in 2010. This was a professional job: Divadlo Disk packed to capacity, five cameras (including one on a boom for sweeping shots over the stage and audience), and over two hours of great music.

The first set was by the Organic Quartet in familiar format with Kuba Doležal on tenor saxophone, Libor Šmoldas on guitar, and Tomáš Hobzek working away on the kit. They played their usual brand of original material, honed and refined on the road. Ondřej's rig now features a new Hammond put through a Leslie cabinet, recreating one of the greatest sounds in music.

For the second set they were joined by saxophonist Joel Frahm (USA), along with Miroslav Hloucal on trumpet. The result was a tight sextet, double sax and trumpet working well. Frahm was on stellar form, his wild solos rapturously received.

The grand finale saw the stage straining to also accommodate the dozen or so members of the Bucinatores Big Band: brass, woodwind, Tomáš Liška on bass, and a big, big sound. With so many players the music was more structured but there was still room for improvisation. It was then back to the sextet for the first encore, and finally a trio of Frahm, Pivec, and Šmoldas to softly play out the night.

Both sets were good, the second especially so in places. The sextet managed to hit the zone where the music had something really special going on. The DVD should be treat: look out of news (and of course an in-depth review) on Prague Jazz.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bohemia Jazz Fest in The Prague Post

An unusually interesting article about the Bohemia Jazz Fest is featured in this week's Prague Post - you can read it here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

News: Ondřej Pivec on TV

According to OP's management Ondřej will be on news channel ČT24 tonight (July 8th) at 19:30 (Prague time) with his band. If you don't have access to the channel you can also watch over the internet at

Update, 8/7/09 (19:00) - Sadly the powers to be at the TV station have bumped the piece to make room for something on the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Details of rescheduled broadcast when we have them.

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.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

GigTips: July 2009

We're now over halfway though 2009, and so far it has been a great year for music if not for the weather. Hopefully we are now going to get some proper summer in the city, although just because it gets hot don't forget your umbrella. Those storms come fast and seemingly out of nowhere!

With luck the rain will hold off for the Bohemia Jazz Fest, the Prague dates of which are 12-13/7. This is a chance to see jazz talent from around the world, including Chris Potter Underground on the Sunday and Medeski, Martin and Wood on the Monday. There will be Czech jazz represented too, in the form of the Milan Svoboda Quartet. Free, and staged in the beautiful setting of Old Town Square, this is an event to savour.

Another unique concert that is worth a mention is bassist George Mraz with Hank Jones (p.) and Willie Jones (dr.) playing at one of the Jazz na Hradě concerts on 14/7.

Just because acts appear regularly it does not make them any less good, and all blues fans are advised not to forget the two great bluesmen of U Malého Glena, Stan “The Man” Wolarz on Mondays and Rene Trossman on Wednesdays. Rene's music is very much Chicago blues whereas Stan belts it out rough and raw, very different but both are fantastic guitarists. Another fantastic guitarist is of course Luboš Andršt: see him at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum on 19-20/7 with his Group.

The newest club on the scene, Jazz Dock, thankfully didn't float away in the recent floods, and if you're after some hard Hammond then watch out for Ondřej Pivec – he'll be there with his Trio and saxophonist Petr Kalfus on 5/7 and with his ORGANIC Quartet on 30-31/7.

As ever this is just a small selection of what is going on. Check out the links below for full details of all the main clubs and festivals. Remember to book ahead if you want to be sure of getting a good table in the smaller clubs, and please do tell the venue that you saw the gig listed here.