Wednesday, August 3, 2011

CD Review: Projekt Z

Projekt Z
Animal Music, ANI 027-2, 2011

Projekt Z is a new collaboration featuring three young musicians who have already made a noticeable impact on the Czech scene. At the moment it is hard to pick up a new album that doesn't feature Marcel Bárta on saxophones and bass clarinet. Daniel Šoltis is a familiar name on drums, and Petr Zelenka has an impressive recording history including two albums under his own name. He also broadened his horizons with a stint living and working in Paris before returning to the Czech scene. They are joined by Spanish flautist Rodrigo Parejo, who is less well known here but comes with vast international experience. Zelenka is the main composer on the album, with some contributions from the others.

The press release that accompanies Projekt Z speaks of “a free space for musical and non-musical communication”. Presumably that is meant to excuse the opening track, "Výkřiky" (R. Parejo, M. Bárta, P. Zelenka), a minute of random honking, parping and squeaking. It sounds like the after-effects of a particularly hot curry. Similarly track 4, "Kulička" (R. Parejo, M. Bárta, P. Zelenka), sounds like a drunk choir rolling dice in a cup while trying to spit out a wasp. And if you've ever wondered what it would sound like if you tried to shoot an an angry pig with a flute then I respectfully refer you to track 7, "Motůrek" (P. Zelenka, R. Parejo).

The remaining 11 pieces thankfully fall into the category of “musical communication”, although maybe not the sort of music that you would expect. This is an album of dark, experimental compositions. The inherent sense of melody that often infuses Czech jazz is hardly noticeable at all, and the result is a harsh ride that often sounds more like King Crimson than Miles Davis. Zelenka's stark, fully electrified sound strides around menacingly while flute and horn wail. The jazz convention of one musician improvising over the patterns of the rest is maintained, but the patterns are edgy textures rather than more conventional riffs.

When this record works it really, really works. "Police" (P. Zelenka) begins with a steady drum pattern (of which there are few, Šoltis spending much of his time in a hyperactive flutter), woodwind sets up the structure, Zelenka fires up the infinite sustain and plays with the precision of a hypodermic needle. Tempos continually shift and change. Beats are dropped and found. There are gorgeous contrasts of hard and soft sounds. Bárta cooks up a top-notch solo as the band cranks it up to furious climax before dropping down into a sparse coda. Live, with the volume pedals kicked down to the floor, this could be an absolute killer.

There is no bass instrument on Projekt Z other than the low, thick sound of the bass clarinet. Its distinctive tones are all over the album and used to good effect on tracks like “Music Box” (P. Zelenka), its warm tones ever-present in the background. The drums beat a march and the flute takes the role of the army band pipe. An effervescent flute solo steals the show, but all the time that bass sound is there, growing and evolving.

Prozaik” (P. Zelenka)  sounds like something from the “prunk” movement – that seemingly-contradictory fusion of punk and progressive rock: blaring sax and skiddy flute over a fast riff and thrashed drums, held together by periodically melodic passages in unison. There's some shouting too. “Raketa” (P. Zelenka) also has that rocky edge, and with that jagged guitar sitting alongside flute and sax it really does sound like a lost King Crimson track, albeit with technically better improvisational including some great work by Bárta.

The dissonant strands of "Marš ven" (P. Zelenka) never resolve themselves into anything satisfying, but the last two tracks are satisfying indeed. “Last Call Blues” (P. Zelenka) is delivered with melancholy slow motion and shows that there is something special here. This band can play a simple tune and it does not sound ordinary. There is still room for the creativity, the improvisation, and even a touch of the chaos. Their almost pathological avoidance of melody is unnecessary. “From One Dream To Another” (P. Zelenka) is even more understated, and even more powerful for it.

A strange one indeed this album. They took risks and that has to be applauded: there's no excuse for young artists who spend all their time painting by numbers. And there are many moments where it is different, exciting, stimulating, frightening even, and it will be interesting to hear how they adapt to live performance. But what are these moments of “non-musical communication” meant to be? A joke? An artistic statement? Speaking of jokes, using the initials of the band members to make a rude word for one of the song titles is tiresome. The music of Projekt Z has the potential to endure. I suggest they stick to playing it.


1. Výkřiky (Rodrigo Parejo, Marcel Bárta, Petr Zelenka)
2. Podruhé (Marcel Bárta)
3. Marš ven (Petr Zelenka)
4. Kulička (Rodrigo Parejo, Marcel Bárta, Petr Zelenka)
5. Rubato Boom Is Over (Petr Zelenka)
6. Police (Petr Zelenka)
7. Motůrek (Petr Zelenka, Rodrigo Parejo)
8. Z.M.R.D. (Petr Zelenka)
9. Raketa (Petr Zelenka)
10. Music Box (Petr Zelenka)
11. Prozaik (Petr Zelenka)
12. Šrums (Rodrigo Parejo, Marcel Bárta, Petr Zelenka)
13. Last Call Blues (Petr Zelenka)
14. From One Dream To Another (Petr Zelenka)

Samples are available at

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