Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New Andršt Website

Luboš now has an official site -

There is still material being added to it but it does already have some detailed information about his different bands and past recordings.

A review of the his new Moment in Time album will be on Prague Jazz in a couple of days, but as a sneak preview, it is a very, very, very, very good record indeed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

News: Žižkov Meets Jazz

Once again winter brings, along with hot wine and cold mornings, the Žižkov Meets Jazz festival. This year it features acts including rising star guitarist David Dorůžka with his Trio, the smooth samba grooves of Yvonne Sanchez, and Nika Diamant (now seemingly known as Veronika) with her SofaJazz project.

ŽMJ will take place on the 7th and 8th of November in the underground maze that is Palác Akropolis. If you want to grab some food before the music we at Prague Jazz heartily recommend the pub diagonally opposite the Akropolis - as well as Czech favourites they do the best steak in this city.

More details at:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Gig Review: Luboš Andršt’s 60th Birthday Concert

Lucerna Music Bar
14th October 2008

It was a decision I hoped that I would not have to make: whether to leave a Slavia hockey match a few minutes early or risk being late for Luboš Andršt’s 60th birthday gig and album launch. With one eye on the clock and one eye on the ice I constantly willed the officials to hurry up and get play moving again. The breaks lasted an eternity, the delays were measured in geological time, and those seconds never stopped ticking away. Finally, with the match against Pardubice balanced at 2:2, and with one minute to go and extra time a certainty, I cut my losses and ran for the Metro. In doing so I missed the 60th minute goal that handed Slavia a 3:2 victory. It was the first, and probably last, home goal that I will miss this season. And yet I am not bitter or angry. That tells you how good this gig was.

It was not so much a concert as a public celebration of the man’s work. The set-list featured music from different incarnations of Andršt genius. Sitting in with his usual Group musicians were some of the biggest names in Czechoslovak jazz. The audience, unlike the usual mix that you find in Prague’s jazz clubs, had come solely to listen to Luboš and were quietly attentive and noisily appreciative in the appropriate places. The Lucerna Music Bar, bigger than AghaRTA Jazz Centrum, allowed for louder and wider soundscapes: audio CinemaScope for the discerning listener. They also have pretty coloured lights and unusually good (and cheap) Pilsner Urquell.

The band began with material from their new Moment in Time album, including the re-recorded live favourite “La Bodeguita Del Medio”, sounding loose and relaxed. Michal Hejna’s enthusiastic drumming was augmented by guest percussionist Pavel Plánka, while Wimpy Tichota’s bass supplied well-amplified and satisfying funk and Ondřej Kabrna let rip with usual gusto on keys. “Series of Goodbyes”, honed live before it was recently committed to record, ended with a heavyweight guitar solo that emphatically bridged the divide between jazz, blues, and rock.

The core of the band was soon joined by charismatic saxophonist Michal Žáček, playing as usual his double-miked and effect-boxed tenor sax. The duelled solos between guitar and saxophone were especially effective on the beautiful original “Moment in Time” where Žáček demonstrated some fine whole-body playing. With the addition of Emil Viklický on piano (freeing Kabrna to add some effective synthesiser work), and Jan Hrubý on violin, the instrumental supergroup was complete. Familiarity forged over the years, and intuitive improvisation skills, meant that this new ensemble played with the conviction and surefootedness of a regular outfit, only with more smiles.

Fittingly, for such a celebratory concert, the clock was rolled back with “Paprsek ranního slunce” (“A Ray of Morning Sunlight”). Originally from the Energit LP (1975), it featured mesmerising interplay between guitar and violin, and a thumping Prog Rock slab of fusion in the middle.

The tradition of pouring champagne on a copy of the new album was observed, and there was a quick speech from the man himself, before the final guest of the night: vocalist Peter Lipa. Slovak jazz legend Lipa and Andršt worked together in the 1980s, spreading their own brand of blues, funk and jazz through two records and many live performances. “Let the Good Times Roll”, a blues standard and a sentiment that summed up the two hours of music that preceded it, was a call to party in an era when it sometimes feels like the party is over.

By combining his 60th birthday concert with the launch of his new album, Luboš Andršt looked to the past and the future at the same time. The new material shows that his writing and playing remain undimmed by the years. The old forms a repertoire that most young musicians can never even aspire to matching. His ability to not only play, but write and arrange, marks him out as one of the best guitarists in Central Europe. And when he plays it is done with feeling and depth, rather than just callow empty chops and “look at me everyone” posturing. All this and more, plus the rare sight of him jamming with the likes of Emil Viklický, made it truly a night to savour.

I’m sure that goal wasn’t a good one anyway…

Feature: Pictures from Luboš Andršt’s 60th Birthday Concert

Lucerna Music Bar
14th October 2008

Emil Viklický sits in:
Jan Hrubý on violin, Wimpy on bass:
Happy Birthday!Peter Lipa on vocals:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gig Review: Eva Svobodová & Co.

Reduta Jazz Club

5th October 2008

Reduta is one of the most famous jazz venues in Europe. It is the place where Bill Clinton and Václav Havel played together in 1994, and the seats they took on the hard fixed benches are marked with metal badges for posterity. Pictures of the great leaders are displayed prominently amongst the photographs of jazz legends. A single event placed this joint in a consciousness larger than that of the local music fans. It is a place that everyone interested in the history of Czech jazz should visit once.

Once is about right. After that it is harder to put aside the ridiculous price of the drinks and the cloakroom attendants with troglodyte manners. If you don’t have the exact change you are stared at like you just pissed in someone’s tea. You can feel the resentment as the coins are counted out slowly and deliberately, with the severity of a dowry. Bank clerks at gunpoint have handed over the goods with more of a smile. I only go to this place if there is someone I really, really want to see. As such I returned to the historic and atmospheric but totally infuriating Reduta to see the fantastic Eva Svobodová singing with her band.

Eva’s Fine and Mellow (1995) album was featured recently on Prague Jazz: an excellent piece of work in which her voice, an intoxicating mixture of smoke and velvet, perfectly compliments the playing of Luboš Andršt’s Acoustic Set. Her current live outfit, although very different in sound, is no less suited to the songs she delivers so well. The voice is just the same however, capable of capturing both joy and sadness with equal charm.

The current band is fronted not by a guitarist but by jazz trombonist (yes, they do exist) Přemek Tomšíček. Handling the shiny beast with remarkable speed and accuracy, his blistering runs demonstrated extraordinary control of both arm and mouth. On piano Kryštof Marek was taking time away from composing, conducting and band-leading in theatres to offer his tasteful contributions. The rhythm section of František Raba (bass) and František Hönig (drums) provided experience, intelligence and interesting variations. They sounded rounded and polished, usually controlled, and certainly interesting. Substituting lead guitar for lead trombone is not a conventional move, but in this case it worked.

Each of the three sets began with a brief instrumental section before Eva stepped to the microphone. Giving the band time to stretch out a bit more than is usually possible when there is the serious business of songs to be sung, it gave a chance for them to warm up while the audience could settle down, get back from the bar, bemoan the prices, and then shut up.

Some songs from Fine and Mellow were included this evening, including “Everyday (I Have The Blues)” (P. Chatman) and “I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues” (D. Ellington). “Masquerade” (P. F. Webster) was given a splendid treatment, with an extensive instrumental workout and perfect delivery of the bittersweet lyrics. It is ordinarily hard to believe that this song is three quarters of a century old, and impossible to comprehend when it sounds so fresh, alive, and contemporary.

Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child” was recounted with the powerful yearning that the lyrics deserve, while "Agua de Beber" (A. Jobim) was all slick Latin loveliness. This is an ensemble that is as adaptable as it is convincing, being able to snap between joyful swing, desolate ballads, and cathartic blues. A brief interlude as an elastic vocals/bass/drums trio showcased Raba’s dexterity on the big strings; a teasing and light-hearted venture that delighted the Sunday evening punters.

The band, as good as they were and as good as they are in their own right, are the backdrop for Svobodová’s singing. Excellent English pronunciation (better than most Czech singers who sing in English) with just a hint of local accent create a seductive style as timeless as the songs themselves. Songs that may be from a different era and a different part of the word, but human emotions are just the same as they ever were and ever will be. By capturing that emotion, and that realness of feeling the immediacy remains across the decades and the spirit of the music blossoms still. Rare blossoms in autumnal Prague, amid the soft falling leaves and heavy falling nights.