Wednesday, May 28, 2008

CD Review: Rudy Linka

News From Home
ARTA F1 0026-2511, 1992

Rudy Linka could perhaps be unsure about where home actually is. He was born in 1960 in Prague, a city that was then the capital of communist Czechoslovakia. He studied in Stockholm at the beginning of the eighties, becoming a Swedish citizen. Since 1985 he has lived in the USA, and it is there that he is currently based. And so, where is home? That question is simply answered by the liner notes of News From Home. The title track is simply annotated with the words “November ’89”: the month of the Velvet Revolution, when his country of birth stood up and gave Moscow the ideological finger.

Linka’s team on this album reflects the country in which he now resides, with Jay Anderson on bass and Bruce Hall on drums. Also heavily in evidence is saxophone wallah and Yellowjacket Bob Mintzer, spraying lead-lines liberally all over the place.

Linka himself plays guitars and guitar synthesiser. Thankfully the latter is kept within moderation. Like most electronic gadgets based on traditional instruments, guitar synths can provide some original and refreshing sounds, but they are very easy to apply in overkill. Tasteful applications however, such as on “Evidence” (Monk), are a welcome addition to the texture of the music.

The album begins with “Bob’s Tune” (Linka). Saxophone led and syncopated, it is a showcase for Mintzer’s considerable talents. Handing over to Linka, again on synthesiser, the effect is surprisingly sweet for a piece containing such complexity. Returning regularly to a catchy riff, this tune contrasts readily with “Alone Together” (Dietz, Schwartz). A more traditional late night affair, in which the band is not afraid to leave space for contemplation, it allows Linka to play some silky smooth jazz guitar over snaps and cymbals. Anderson gets his first real chance to shine here, with his extended acoustic bass solo lending even more of a “live in the hole” feel to the piece. The temptation to clap as the guitar comes back in is considerable. Ditto for the drum breaks, that are understated but with flair.

“Collage” (Linka) is another high-tempo affair, leading into the delightful “Waltz for John” (Linka). Saxophone and tumbling acoustic guitar interplay and echo in sequences of lilting descent. Hall skitters and shifts his patterns, holding the ear without stealing the show.

As a fan of wry naming I have to appreciate such tags as “To Be Named Later” (Linka) and the eternal question “So, Why Not?” (Linka). “News from Home” (Linka) itself is a special track, as befits such a loaded title, and it is perhaps the most sophisticated and aurally interesting composition in this collection. It starts with disjointed percussion, spaced out to allow guitar and bass to entwine around it and with each other. Sometimes in unison and sometimes in contrast, Linka and Anderson perform an elaborate ritual dance, before drums and sax lift the pace and mood to a celebratory and triumphant pitch.

The album ends on a darker note, with the brooding short “Dialoque” (Linka, Anderson); a sparse overlay of guitar sounds on bass that invokes avant-garde rock as much as jazz.

Although living in New York, Rudy Linka is still a figure on the Czech jazz scene. He was the driving force behind the “Bohemia Jazz Festival” concerts and can often (but not often enough) be seen live on this side of the Pond. We hope to see more of him soon, as the historic twentieth anniversary of that unthinkable news from home comes inevitably closer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Feature: The Prague Jazz Cinema Show!

Obviously the best way to sample the musicians who play this town is to get down into the clubs, sink a few cold ones, and let the night work its magic. But for those of you who do not know where to start, or don’t really appreciate what is out there, or simply live in far-away underdeveloped countries (e.g. Great Britain), there is the Prague Jazz Cinema Show! So log in, turn down the lights, and grab a drink…

First of all we have a couple of crackers from Prague’s resident Chicago bluesman, Rene Trossman. His original piece , "My Endless Blue Mood" and the classic "Caldonia". The latter is taken from an NME feature on different versions of "Caldonia", showing once again the world-class nature of the local scene.

I first saw Nika Diamant performing at an anti-communist demonstration on 1st May 2007. Here is a great version of “Spoonful” (Willie Dixon) from that concert from my own vaults:

Also, from the same event, Michal Prokop, Luboš Andršt and Jan Hrubý "unplugged":

The Emil Viklický Trio are known for their exciting and vibrant performances, with Emil’s adaptations of traditional Moravian tunes always worth hearing. Here is a clip of the trio performing "Buhaina, Buhaina" (Ray Brown).

The Robert Balzar Trio often work with Czech singer Dan Bárta, in this case performing "Looking at the world"

Time for a timeless blast from the past. Michal Prokop performing “Bitva o Karlův most” from 1985! Watch out for some excellent violin work from composer Honza Hrubý.

We’ll leave the last word to the king of cool himself, the one and only Luboš Andršt. Here he is, “Walking the Dog” (Rufus Thomas) with his Blues Band. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gig Review: Michal Prokop, Luboš Andršt, Jan Hrubý

10th May 2008
Jiřího z Poděbrad

There are many ways to enjoy the live music scene in Prague. A personal favourite has to be the free open-air concerts that can regularly appear celebrating this, that, and usually some of the other. Whether it is to commemorate the anniversary of Czechoslovakian Statehood (remember that country?) or just to remind people that Communism is bad (remember the KGB?), nothing cries freedom better than standing around in the sun and watching great bands while drinking beer.

This time it was the 550th anniversary of the crowning of Jiří z Poděbrad (George of Poděbrady), Hussite leader and King of Bohemia. A day-long programme featured a variety of Czech talents, from veteran singers Jitka Zelenková and Marta Kubišová to Jakub Smolík, who could quite easily beat Cliff Richard in a Cliff-A-Like contest. He threw photos into the crowd for signing later, while Jagabab threw in some rhythmic medieval tunes. We also had drum majorettes from Poděbrady (see the raincoats scuttle), a championship cocktail mixing demonstration, and a historical recreation of Czech George getting his shiny hat. The temperature of the afternoon sun was high and the price of the brewskis was low, but it was in the evening gloom that the Michal Prokop, Luboš Andršt and Jan Hrubý took to the stage.

One of the disadvantages of festival gigging is that there is little time to set up beforehand, and as such a frantic ten minute sound check and amp-slap (in order to get rid of an annoying buzz) was required. But once the gear was set up and they launched into “Rain” (Jose Feliciano) it was clear that they were on form. Punchy, rhythmic, and with its English lyrics convincingly sung, it was a good song to get the crowd in the mood and also to kill off the last of the squeaks from the valve amps. It also showed (as always) that this “unplugged” band is not a weak, watered-down version of Framus Five. It is a dynamic and interesting outfit in its own right, even though it might share some of its repertoire with its big brother.

The great strength of this acoustic trio is that they have space and freedom to improvise and adapt. As such the music always has a spontaneous feel that you can’t reproduce with a larger band. After playing together for many years there is an almost telepathic relationship between Andršt on acoustic guitar and Hrubý on violin, best exhibited during their duel at the end of “Bitva o Karlův most”. Playing off each other, and occasionally tripping each other up in their battle of virtuosity, it was perhaps the bow that won tonight. A close call though...

With no bassist in the outfit LA manages to assume some of the low end duties on his acoustic axe, integrating the beat within his dextrous flurries. Meanwhile Prokop himself, playing more rhythm guitar than with the larger electric band, is a powerful and emotive singer in both languages. “Hoochie Coochie Man” was delivered with an emphatic growl and harmonica, while the Czech centrefold of “Miss July” was light and wry. It was Luboš who took the lead during the instrumental jam in the middle of HCM with some lightening moves over the frets, before Jan hit it with a solo that almost made him slide off his chair. Looking calm and reposed during rare moments of inaction, then exploding with body language and sound when the mood takes, he is always a character worth watching on stage.

There was time for a single encore of “Dobrú noc má milá”, a plaintive discordant melody that transforms into an extended instrumental thrash worthy of the most Proggy of folksters. All of this to loud and well-deserved applause of course, from the hardy crowd who were starting to button up their shirts and restore their outer clothing in the cooling Prague night. Maybe some of this coolness was due to a storm coming from the west, or maybe it was due to the guys on stage; their acoustic trio is about as cool as it gets.

Feature: Pictures from Jiřího z Poděbrad, 10.5.2008

More pictures from the whole day can be found here

Friday, May 9, 2008

News: Luboš Andršt in the Prague Post

Is there no end to the coolness of Luboš? Not only is he a sorcerer with the stringed axe but also he has been featured in the Prague Post, resulting in their first ever readable and interesting article. Hopefully this piece in Central Europe's softest and most absorbent weekly rag will bring some more local real music fans to his shows, helping displace the summer yammerers!

Read it here:

Monday, May 5, 2008

Gig Review: Rene Trossman Band

U Malého Glena
30th April 2008

The first of day May is a public holiday in the Czech Republic and that can mean only one thing: the last night of April is a good opportunity to stay up late and go see some weekday music. With no work to look forward to when the dawn breaks, apart from snoozing off the last groans of a malty hangover, a free Wednesday night in Prague is the perfect opportunity to drop in and see Rene Trossman and his Blues Band.

It is not so much that RT plays Chicago blues, it is more that that he is Chicago blues to the core. A city with a rich and diverse music scene, it was there that Trossman cut his teeth on the club circuit. As such not only are his chops pretty hot but also there is real gritty authenticity in his performances. I’ve heard “Sweet Home Chicago” done many times, but when it is sung by some greenhorn who once changed flights at O’Hare it sounds like a bunch of bull. In Trossman’s hands I am reminded of why that song is so great. They should ban anyone who hasn’t lived in the Windy City for at least two decades from even humming it.

Rene was backed as usual by Taras Voloshchuk on acoustic bass and the agile Tomáš Vokurka on drums. Playing an unusually small and simple kit he still manages to get a wide array of sounds. Together they form a flexible and interesting rhythm section, guiding even the most hopeless foot-tapper into their art. Unusually Groovemeister Jan Kořínek wasn’t in the line-up, providing his funky organ sounds and taking up a large share of Little Glen’s little stage, but sitting in for him was fellow Groove player, Jiří Hokeš on guitar. Playing with a jazzy flair Hokeš added to the depth of the overall sound, as well as taking a fair few lead lines himself. Kořínek’s organ does lend the band a distinctive sound, but it was certainly interesting to hear them with a two guitar attack for a change.

As usual there was a mix of blues standards and original pieces sitting comfortably side by side, the latter including “My Endless Blue Mood” and “Postmarked Illinois”. Both are available on Trossman’s Postmarked Illinois album. Standards included the energetic “Caldonia”, “Big Boss Man” (as popularised by Jimmy Reed), and the timeless blast of “Mojo” – a fitting tribute on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of the great Muddy Waters. With the RTB you not only get some superb music but also a little blues history lesson thrown into the deal!

As ever at UMG there are performers that aren’t on the stage and that I didn’t pay to hear. Down in the “submarine” (as RT referred to it) there are no quiet places to talk. Especially if you’re a bunch of big loud Germans. Thankfully they were late for the first set and started to shut up a bit during the third, and so it could have been worse. At London’s Jazz Café there used to be a sign by the stage saying “S.T.F.U. during performances”. This is not an unreasonable request, and one wishes that UMG would invest in such a sign. It would be almost as pleasing to see in there as the naked lady poster. Somebody wanted a birthday dedication for “Basil”, and one hopes that there were a few Fawlty Towers fans in the house that night. The band was, as always, professional and accommodating. It is more than I would be.

Rene and his band are regarded as a must-see act when they tour Europe. As such is it a privilege to have access to their music on a weekly basis. “Chicago to go” with a fat side of Bernard beer makes for a filling menu; just the thing to burn up a Wednesday night in style. And by the time he’s finished with “Sweet Home” you’ll be thinking about a trip to the travel agent.