Sunday, September 28, 2008

GigTips: October 2008

October is here and it is going to get cold soon: time to pull out the winter clothes and try to remember where you put the electric blanket! While it may mean the end of the outdoor concert season we have had some great ones this year, and the snug warmth of underground jazz clubs is a good place to be when darkness falls. It is also a lull in the tourist season, and as such a time for Prague's resident jazz fans to reclaim the clubs as their own. While of course the tourist throngs do bring in genuine enthusiasts and lots of revenue, they also bring in yammering fools who only stop talking in order to fire a flashgun into the face of the singer. Prague is one of the few cities in the world with a thriving indigenous jazz scene, and the best way that local music fans can support this is by going to lots of gigs, buying lots of records, and showing their love by listening intently and applauding appreciatively.

There are some very special gigs this month, with Jazz v Rudolfinu (8/10) and Chick Willis appearing with the Rene Trossman Band at USP Jazz Lounge (16/10). Further details of both gigs can be found in recent postings on Prague Jazz. Meanwhile at the Lucerna Music Bar, under the aegis of the AghaRTA autumn jazz festival, master guitarist Luboš Andršt celebrates both turning 60 earlier this year and releasing his new Moment In Time album with a guest-studded concert (14/10).

We at Prague Jazz seldom recommend going to Reduta. It may have been the home of the Clinton/Havel jam (with Robert Balzar on bass), but 300CZK is a bit steep as an entry cost and 80CZK for a beer is just damn silly. However, occasionally, there is someone performing there for whom it is worth enduring the tourist treatment, and this certainly includes Eva Svobodová (5/10). Forget the wallet-hoovering and just enjoy her alluring smokey velvet voice. It is also worth checking out the record shop that does have a very good collection of local music, including Eva's superb Fine and Mellow.

Two other female vocalists to see this month are Miriam Bayle (29/10) at USP Jazz Lounge, and folk/jazz queen Pavla Milcov
á (1/10) at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum.

Please remember to book ahead if you want to be sure of getting a seat. And please do tell the venue that you saw the gig recommended here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

News of the Blues

Hot news from Prague's resident Chicago singer and guitarist, Rene Trossman.

Blues star Chick Willis (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.) will be playing with Rene's band in Prague for one night only. The gig will be on October 16, 2008 at the USP Jazz Lounge. A night not to be missed by all fans of real blues!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

CD Review: Eva Svobodová feat. Luboš Andršt Acoustic Set

Fine and Mellow

Multisonic 31 0334-2, 1995

There are lots of very good albums in the world, and the Czech jazz scene probably has a disproportionate number of them. Some are better than others, but it is hard to find a real stinker. However, despite the consistently high quality of the music being produced in this country, there are occasionally albums that really stand out. Even for the listener who now has his quality threshold raised above his hairline due to an over-exposure of greatness there are still some treats out there waiting to be discovered. Fine and Mellow is such an album: a jewel of note in the very sparkly crown.

The album features established Czech singer Eva Svobodová backed by Andršt’s acoustic-orientated band. It oozes class and style. The musicianship is splendid. Eva’s smoky vocals provide a charged thrill verging on the erotic. Luboš eases out the curve of each note with such perfect proportion that Michelangelo's statue of David seems clunky and half-arsed in comparison. The band hums, sings, jiggles, sprawls, attacks, tenses and releases. The choice of songs is striking, original, and totally lovely. It is an album by grown-ups and for grown-ups, but it can still induce the childish joy of virginal discovery. As a package it satisfies in a way so complete that it shouldn’t belong to the modern world. Yes. It is very good.

“I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues” (D. Ellington / D. George) kicks in with Eva to the fore, caressing her way through a languid lament, while the Acoustic Set capture a late night mood of gentle sleaze. Andršt contributes a solo that is as sweet as honey and expressive as a Frenchman in love (although with better taste). Its laidback and slinky feel is indicative of the album as a whole: sophisticated and intelligent, sweet and wordly.

“Masquerade” (J. Loeb / P. F. Webster) opens with some jaunty vibes from Radek Krampl, and is an upbeat treatment of this standard. Instead of wallowing in darkness this is a vivacious and flirty romp, with Krampl also offering up a fine solo later on. The next track, “Black Coffee” (P. F. Webster / F. J. Burke) is a bluesier affair, featuring Štěpán Markovič on tenor saxophone. One of the local scene’s most respected sax-wallahs, Markovič accentuates and highlights the melody with airy phrases that complement Eva’s velvet voice and Luboš’s gentle phrasing.

Everyday (I Have The Blues) (P. Chapman) dates from Depression-era Chicago and features some sterling acoustic bass work from Petr Dvorský, firstly underlying a fine solo shared between Markovič and Andršt, and then moving to the front in his own right. The next number, “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” (C. Mingus / J. Mitchell), is probably the standout track on this album. Dark and shifting, this classic Mingus composition gives the band plenty to think about and they prove themselves to be more than up to the job. Andršt seizes the guitar lines, and in doing so adds himself to the list of guitar greats who have made the solo in this piece their own. Sad and sweet, with the occasional blistering run than he makes sound so easy, it is understated brilliance. Meanwhile Eva interprets Mitchell’s lyrics with empathy and panache.

“Same Ol’ Story” (B. Ighner) is a pulsating and feel-good piece that lists the common threads that bind humanity together. It has plenty of room for the band to flex and explore, and in doing so they give the song a satisfying depth that it would otherise lack.

“Only Women Bleed” (V. Furnier / D. Wagner) has had many lives, including being recorded by rocker Alice Cooper, and here it lives again. Svobodová delivers a mixture of wryness and sadness in the words, while chiming vibes punctuate and an usually raspy guitar contrasts with sweet soprano saxophone. Meanwhile “A Night in Tunisia” (D. Gillespie / L. Robin) is a twisty Latin-influenced affair, with Jaromír Helešic coming out of the shadows on drums with some flashy licks.

“All Blues” (M. Davis) is a catchy standard with its mesmerising six-eight bass motif. Over this Eva layers and stretches her vocals, and band and singer swirl and sway together in a circular lilting celebration that could go on forever and still be too short. Finally the album ends with the title track, “Fine and Mellow” (B. Holliday). It is one final blast of verve; a fitting end to a triumphant recording.

Fine and Mellow is one of those special albums that can take you by surprise. Its agenda is not particularly radical, and yet it is a collection of songs that sound fresh, new and exciting. A classy delight, this is a rare piece of Czech jazz that it is worth seeking out.

Jazz at the Rudolfinum

Monday, September 1, 2008

GigTips: September 2008

September is here, and with it the traces of autumn fall upon us with the inevitability of a drum solo. Nights fall quicker, and the leaves that were so bright in spring are tumbling into their last fanfare of yellow, gold and brown. Do not despair though… Prague is pretty in the late season, ice hockey and football are back with us (Slavie do toho! Smrt Spartě!), and the music is as good as ever.

Madfinger, fresh from their exuberant and show-stealing performance in Old Town Square, will be making several appearances at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum (11/9, 19/9, 20/9). Lots of funky fun, they are especially worth seeing for Markéta Foukalová’s superb vocals.

Also at AJC this month are woodwind maestro Jiří Stivín (17/9, 18/9) and the always powerful piano heavyweight Karel Růžička (13/9).

Elsewhere, the excellent Beata Hlavenková (8/9) will be taking her Trio (no steel guitar this time) through its paces at USP Jazz Lounge, and manic pianist Ondřej Kabrna will do likewise on 23/9.

Finally, the Robert Balzar Trio are really on form at the moment, and you can see them at the “submarine” - U Malého Glena – on 4/9. Please remember to shut up while the band play… it is a small place and you will annoy people if you talk. Or even breathe too loudly. And remember to buy a copy of their excellent Tales album while you are there.

Please remember to check with the venue in case of any changes, and reserve ahead to be sure of a seat. And do tell the club that you saw the gig featured on Prague Jazz