Monday, April 25, 2011

CD Review: Richie Cole Q & Emil Viklický (Jazz na Hradě)

Multisonic (31 0799-2)

It is fair to say that Václav Klaus is not the least controversial politician in the world. He attracts attention on both the domestic and the international stages, and the critical coverage often seems to outweigh the positive. Where Klaus cannot be faulted is in his promotion of Czech jazz, not as some sort of historical relic but as a living, breathing cultural identity. The most visible evidence of his support for the genre is the Jazz na Hradě (Jazz at the Castle) concert series, played and recorded in the halls of Prague Caste itself. This is no mere paper endorsement: Klaus turns up and introduces the concerts himself. Whatever else you may think of him there is no doubt that Klaus is, in the words of Richie Cole, a "Jazz President".

The concert on October 17th 2010 brought together talent from both sides of the Atlantic. Richie Cole (as), Ted Hogarth (bar) and Ernie Adams (d) were joined by local guys Josef Fečo (b) and Emil Viklický (p). The resulting album is upbeat and joyous; a celebration of music and cultural collaboration.

The record is a mix of standards and original compositions, including two new Cole numbers penned for the occasion, "Castle Bop" and "Swinging With President Klaus". Cole is known for playing in the style of Charlie Parker, and during "Castle Bop" he revels in rapid twists and turns. Adams impresses with intricate percussion that never overwhelms the band but is worth listening to in its own right. Strong interplay between the two horns can be heard, with Hogarth blowing hard at the low end. Viklický tears it up during his solo, as would be expected. Although miles away from the Moravian interpretations for which he is famous, his playing is still infused with the innate sense of bitter-sweet melody that defines his sound.

It is Viklický who kicks off "Swinging With President Klaus" with an expressive, bluesy piano solo that leads into a strident and snappy piece. Fečo is reassuringly twangy and the melody is sweet enough. "Cacharel" is an infectious Viklický original during which the contrast between alto and baritone instruments is used with great effect.

There are two Gerry Mulligan pieces on the album, bringing the essence of cool jazz to the Castle. "Song For Strayhorn" unites the sax players in fragile and ethereal expression. The poignancy is even echoed in Fečo's bass solo. "North Atlantic Run" contains some of the most proficient ensemble playing on the recording: a good example to busy young musicians of how to not trip up over each other while still being able to do your thing.

Other names who are visited on this album include Ray Brown ("Buhaina"), Horace Silver ("Opus De Funk" - listen out for Adams as he sublimely shifts and changes his patterns under the angular romp of saxes and piano), and of course Charlie Parker. "Confirmation" is full-blooded bebop. They handle it well, audibly enjoying the furious pace. The Cole composition "Bossa Nova Eyes" ends the album in a calmer and more relaxing style; a fluid Latin-tinged workout with satisfying solos.

Just because you put a group of able musicians together on the same stage it does not mean that the gig is going to work. Lack of familiarly or a clash of styles can render the whole substantially less than the sum of its parts. However sometimes they seize the moment and fly. That is what happens here. It shouldn't be regarded as a Czech jazz album but as a world jazz album, recorded in Prague and with some Czech guys on it. There are a lot of Cole fans out there. Hopefully they will discover this disc, and with is discover two excellent Czech musicians who deserve the widest possible global audience.

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