Thursday, December 31, 2009

GigTips: January 2010

And so here we are again, at the start of another year. We at Prague Jazz hope that all our readers had a good time over the Christmas season, welcomed in 2010 with good company, and are now ready for another year of jazz. The Czech jazz scene remains one of the most vibrant in Europe, with a combination of exciting young artists who are finding their way to excellence and more established names who are truly world class writers and players. There were many great concerts in 2009 and there is no reason to suspect that 2010 is going to be any different. Here is our selection of what's hot and cool (you know what we mean) in January...

For those of you interested in hearing Infinite Quintet perform material from their Speak Slowly album (reviewed on PJ last week) they will be at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum on 22/1. Also at AghaRTA this month is Hammond organist Ondřej Pivec with his Organic Quartet. It is not as easy as it used to be to see Ondřej in Prague because he now spends a considerable amount of time in New York City. On this tour he will also be appearing with saxophonist Petr Kalfus (8/1) and with the Bucinatores Big Band (19/1). Both of these concerts will be at Jazz Dock. His full schedule is shown below:

It is also possible to see the other great key basher called Ondřej in January, again at AghaRTA. Ondřej Kabrna will be appearing there with his own band, the groovy Ondřej Kabrna Powerplay Trio (5/1), as well as in his usual role of pianist and keyboard player in the Luboš Andršt Group (12, 13/1).

At U Malého Glena in January there is a chance to catch the excellent Beata Hlavenková and her Trio on 23/1. She is one of the most interesting young Czech pianists, and will be playing material from her recent Joy for Joel album.

In a break from tradition this month we are actually going to recommend two gigs at Reduta. On 3/1 the fabulous Elena Sonenshine will be there. She's a powerful singer with a strong stage presence, backed up by a tight band. If you're in the mood for some vocal jazz then you could do a lot worse. Also appearing at Reduta will be the evergreen Emil Viklický Trio (14/1). What he can't do with a piano is probably not worth doing. Both Elena and Emil will also be appearing at USP Jazz Lounge on 9/1 and 26/1 respectively.

As ever this is just a very small selection of the gigs taking place. If you are interested in finding out more please follow the links to the artist and venue websites for full schedules. Remember to book your table in advance if you want to be sure of sitting near the front, and if you do sit near the front why not (as a late Christmas present to the musicians) refrain from talking all through the performance and firing your flashgun in their faces. And please, if you remember, do tell the club that you saw the gig mentioned here.

Best wishes for 2010 from all at Prague Jazz HQ!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

CD Review: Speak Slowly

Infinite Quintet
Animal Music / ANI 014-2, 2009

Speak Slowly is the first album to be released by Infinite Quintet, but flicking through the liner notes you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Their names and faces are nothing if not familiar to anyone who frequently attends jazz gigs in Prague. Miroslav Hloucal leads the outfit on trumpet and flugelhorn, with Petr Kalfus (saxophones) and Viliam Béreš (piano) also featuring prominently. The rhythm section consists of the excellent bassist Petr Dvorský and drummer Martin Novák. A ubiquitous bunch who, if a supergroup of young Czech jazzers was to be assembled, would all be strong candidates for inclusion.

Although Hloucal wrote the majority of the compositions he does not unduly dominate proceedings. This album has a strong feeling of collaboration and the combination of talents. Hloucal plays sweetly and often with an edge of melancholy, also echoed by Kalfus. While not an especially slow recording it does have an atmosphere of contemplation that makes it seem to belong to the small hours of the morning, regardless of the time of day that it is actually played.

The first track, "Ghost Town" (V. Béreš), opens with a twangy bass rhythm and delicate drum pattern before Hloucal and Kalfus come in with a lilting melody that endures. They spend a lot of time on this album working together, two intertwining strands of sound. It works well, with the different tones of woodwind and brass contrasting nicely. There is no rush. Plenty of space is left. Béreš's solo is unhurried, even when nudged along from behind. The saxophone solo is high and nimble, the ensemble playing has depth.

"Night Callin´" (M. Hloucal) is one of the more interesting pieces on Speak Slowly. It features some delicate interplay between Béreš and Kalfus before the former teams up with Dvorský at the bottom end, providing a broken pattern over which a legato melody is layered. It is another spacey composition with all five members managing not to trip up over each other.

There are some lighter shades on this recording. "Cup of Bb" (M. Hloucal) has whimsical moments, fed by a playful piano line. "Song For P.K." (M. Hloucal) has periods that are almost strident and chaotic (in an understated sort of way), with Kalfus getting a good workout. "Gaza" (V. Béreš) swirls enjoyably, bubbling with pacey staccato attacks.

"Gone So Fast" (Petr Kalfus) is not one of the lighter shades. Dedicated by the writer to his father, it starts with ambient effects and haunting piano. Novák goes for the brushes. Emphatic and grandiose chords give way to an expressive saxophone solo. Dvorský pitches it just right when it is his chance to go alone. While the musicianship on this album is of a generally high standard it is his consistent contributions that so often stand out as worthy of note.

Hloucal steps out into the spotlight on the title track, "Speak Slowly" (M. Hloucal), stretching himself on what is ironically one of the quicker pieces. It is also ironic that it is this playing that shows up the album's weak point most clearly: it never really lets rip. It never goes balls-to-the-wall fury. There's never a point where the listener utters an involuntary curse of amazement and rewinds to listen again. The music is introspective and thoughtful and often beautiful, but there's always a feeling that it is never quite in top gear. It isn't that sort of recording.

Speak Slowly is therefore not the most exciting album in the world, but it is a satisfying début with plenty of moments to grab the attention. What it does it does well, and it will be worth following this outfit to see where it goes from here. It will also be interesting to see how their live shows develop, and what music they choose to compliment the material from the album. There is a lot of talent in this band. It is worth taking seriously.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

News: AghaRTA Prague Jazz Festival (Spring)

The spring dates for the AghaRTA Prague Jazz Festival are now out. The concerts will take place (as usual) at the Lucerna Music Bar: a great relaxed venue with very reasonably priced beer.

Acts appearing this year include the John Scofield Quartet (27/4), Courtney Pine (9/2), and the rockers-who-can-jazz-a-bit supergroup Bozzio/Holdsworth/Levin/Mastelotto (23/4).

Full details are available here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Photos: Emil Viklický & Eve Quartet

On December 14th Emil played a one-off concert with the Eve Quartet in Prague. It was a rare chance to hear some of his music created for piano and string quartet: complex pieces that show a whole different side to his writing. Here are a few photographs from the unique occasion:

Many thanks to Zuzana Peřinová and the Eve Quartet for the photographs. More information about the Eve Quartet at

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

News: Emil Viklický - More Free Samples And Yet Another Album!

Exciting news from Emil: there is yet another album on the way. This one will be a recording of his Trio playing live in Vienna. It was recorded on April 26 2007 with Viklický playing a Steinway Model D. It will hopefully be released in February 2010 on the Cube-Metiér label. More news when we get it.

Meanwhile, if you would like to listen to some free tracks from Viklický then here are a couple of links.

First of all there two samples from his recent Funky Way album on DJ Lou Kash's blog:

I Want The Funky Way!

If you would like to hear a wide selection of Emil's work, including collaborations with George Mraz and Marcus Printup, then check out the samples on Emil's own site:

I Want The Whole Lot!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

News: Special Offers from USP

[Updated 8/12/09 - USP not closing down but changing hands]

USP Jazz Lounge will shortly be changing hands, with the new owners taking over in early January. The old owners are saying goodbye with a series of December special offers:

On 7/12 you can go to see Milan Svoboda and the USP Big Band for just 100 Kč!

On 8/12 everyone who buys a ticket to see the excellent Robert Balzar Trio will also receive a free ticket for a Jazzboat cruise (normally 590 Kč), valid up to December 23rd.

On 11/12 everyone who buys a ticket to see Miriam Bayle will also receive a free club T-shirt.

More news about the changes at USP when we have it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

News: Free Music from Emil Viklický

The good news (part 1): Emil has yet another album out! Sinfonietta - The Janáček Of Jazz features him playing alongside George Mraz on bass and Lewis Nash on drums.

The bad news: It is only available in Japan at the moment.

The good news (part 2): There are free samples available on the Venus Records website. Just click the link below to listen.

Yes - I want to hear some excellent free music!

GigTips: December 2009

And so we reach December, and it is hard to understand where the last twelve months have gone. But gone they have, bringing us around to the end of yet another year and into another Christmas season. It is a time to eat, drink and be merry, and it's always fun doing just that at one of the many Christmas markets in Prague. The health benefits of living for an entire month on a diet of hot wine and roasted chestnuts are unknown, but we will let you know if anything exciting happens. Enjoy the season, and do try not to fall into the carp tanks when you're drunk. And now, here are our December GigTips.

As you all know November saw the release of Tomáš Liška's début solo album, Invisible World. He is celebrating its release, alongside his two collaborators and perhaps some special guests, with two gigs at Jazz Dock (9, 10/12). The first night is the official “christening” of the album and is sure to be a happy event. Also worth seeing at Jazz Dock in December is the always creative Beata Hlavenková with her Trio (21/12). The audiences at Jazz Dock can be a bit chatty so if you want to listen properly make sure that you get a seat near the front and prepare to stare meaningfully at aural trespassers.

AghaRTA Jazz Centrum is offering a quality December programme as can be expected. Another man with a recently released album, Emil Viklický, will be dropping by on 10/12. He is playing with his usual Trio so expect a blend of original compositions, adaptations of Moravian folk songs, and interestingly delivered standards. If you fancy some woodwind excellence then you must go to see the legendary Jiří Stivín: he's playing there on 15, 16/12. AghaRTA is also hosting a lively New Year's Eve event, with the party-hearty Rhythm Desperados playing out the final hours of 2009.

USP Jazz Lounge are continuing their trend of having one-off, interesting concerts with the pairing of pianist Matej Benko and Latin singer Yvonne Sánchez (16/12). Matej will also be appearing with his Trio at U Malého Glena on 29/12. He's a very good pianist and one of the stars of the younger generation of musicians on the Czech scene.

That completes our recommendations for December. Of course we have mentioned just a very small selection of gigs, so do follow the links to the club and artist websites for complete listings. Remember that Christmas is a time for giving presents, and Czech jazz CDs make very good presents indeed. Not only will you be supporting the local musicians but your music-loving friends will thank you for it.

Have fun out there!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

News: Ondřej Pivec To Record New Album

Ondřej Pivec is planning to record a new album in NYC with Czech pianist Najponk and American drummer Greg Hutchinson. More details when we have them...

CD Review: Invisible World

Tomáš Liška
Animal Music / ANI 015-2, 2009

There are many new, younger artists currently making music on the Czech jazz scene, including bass player Tomáš Liška. He's a busy guy, appearing on recordings by the likes of Matej Benko, Nika Diamant and Radek Krampl. He also plays live alongside Lenka Dusilová in the Eternal Seekers, and with award-winning quartet Points. Now he has a solo album out, Invisible World, and it is something rather different.

Invisible World was recorded with a trio of Liška on bass, David Dorůžka on (mainly acoustic) guitars and Daniele di Bonaventura on bandoneón. To save you all a trip to Wikipedia, the bandoneón is a concertina-type instrument, invented in Germany but now associated with Argentinian dance bands. There are some additional contributions - Marta Topferova sings on one track and Tomáš Reindl plays percussion on two - but apart from that it is just the three of them making music together.

What they have created with Invisible World is an intricate and intimate album. The studio-recorded tracks have a live feel about them, but it is the feel of a fireside or a chamber concert rather than one played in a large hall. It is mellow and poignant, blending jazz with touches of folk, country and tango. Each note is played to be heard, not lost in a solid structure of sound. It's a contemplative album, with spacey arrangements that allow the music to breathe.

The first track, “Bonami” (T. Liška), gives a clear idea of what this album is about. Acoustic guitar picks at a clear, Latin-tinged melody, Liška plays tight and syncopated melodic bass, and di Bonaventura adds the drawl of bandoneón, occasionally running in unison with Dorůžka and occasionally taking the lead. The acoustically sensitive recording conveys the impression of music being created at close quarters: a clear sense of fingers pulling on strings and hitting buttons.

Liška is a strong presence on the album, occasionally going for the burn with a solo but mostly leading from the back. He's always working there, throwing in interesting patterns and tones, never settling for being pedestrian. The lack of a drummer means that it is often his work that keeps the beat and suggests structure. It also means that there is more space from him to manoeuvre as a one-man rhythm section, and so he can stretch out comfortably without being intrusive or clashing with anyone else at the low end. It is his bass patterns that keep driving things forward, emerging to provide extra emphasis and withdrawing when not required. It was a brave decision by the bassist to record like this, rather than with a conventional Trio or Quartet, but he handles it with style and maturity.

“Alegría en masca” (T. Liška) and “Silent Talking” (T. Liška) both feature Tomáš Reindl on tabla and udu, lending them even more of a "world music" feel. The former is a legato slice of yearning, and the use of sweet and simple electric guitar as well as percussion gives it a bigger band feel. The latter begins slower and simpler, very bass driven, with the other instruments echoing and complimenting the thick, twangy notes before rising up in elegant ensemble playing.

It is not all slow stuff on this album: “Nihemiah” (T. Liška) lifts the pace, and “Strade deserte a Praga” (D. di Bonaventura) is a brief (1:11) shimmering interlude. “River Way” (T. Liška) rolls along like its name suggests, and again features some good interplay between acoustic guitar and bandoneón. This device, rarely found on a a Czech jazz album, works as a lead instrument as well as being able to provide sharp chordal accompaniment and elongated washes of sound.

“Tierra de mis padres” (“The Land of my Parents”, T. Liška / M.Topferova) is complemented by brooding, breathy Spanish vocals from Marta Topferova. It reeks of Latin tragedy and the call of destiny: longing, sunsets, regrets, returning to home to die, the usual sort of stuff.

“Etheric Moments I.” (T. Liška) is the longest track and it brings the album to a fitting conclusion. It contains the same mix of sadness and celebration that permeates the whole recording. There are shifts in mood and theme, sometimes rich and sometimes sparse, sometimes gentle and sometimes dissonant, and it is perhaps the most musically challenging piece in this collection. The big-finish cliché is eschewed, the final bow consciously understated

In some respects this album is not what you would expect from a Czech jazz musician. Invisible World sounds more influenced by South America than by Central Europe, and while it contains strong jazz elements it not the most straightforward album to classify. It is pleasant music to have on in the background without offending anyone, but with close listening the fine details of craftsmanship make themselves known. Invisible World is also interesting, innovative, technically superior, and a satisfying listen. In that respect it is exactly what you would expect from a Czech jazz musician. For his début album Tomáš Liška has not taken the safe option. I, for one, like that.

Full track listing:

1."Bonami" (T. Liška)
2.“Colour For You” (T. Liška)
3.“Alegría en masca” (T. Liška)
4.“Silent Talking” (T. Liška)
5.“Nihemiah” (T.Liška)
6.“Tierra de mis padres” (T. Liška / M. Topferova)
7.“The Truth About Unspeakable Things (T. Liška)
8.“River Way” (T. Liška)
9.“Strade deserte a Praga” (D.di Bonaventura)
10.“Forever Lost” (D.Dorůžka)
11.“Long Time Ago” (T. Liška)
12.“Etheric Moments I.” (T. Liška)

Free samples of this album can be found on both the Animal Music and the Tomáš Liška websites.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

CD Review: The Funky Way of Emil Viklický

Emil Viklický
Vampisoul / VAMPI CD 115, 2009

It was November 2008 when Emil Viklický, a pianist whose work is revered not only in the Czech Republic but also globally, told Prague Jazz that there would be a release of some of his jazz-rock work from the 1970s and 1980s. The wait was long but now, one year later, The Funky Way of Emil Viklický is here!

Those who are familiar with Emil's piano work can be forgiven for looking puzzled. He is famous for his technical but melodic compositions, his fusion of jazz with Moravian folk melodies, and his effective treatment of jazz standards. There are many ways to describe his recent output, all of them complimentary, but “funky” would not be on the list. So, can Emil Viklický, grandmaster of the grand piano, really play funk? Of course he can...

The Funky Way is a collection of his work with different outfits from between 1975 and 1987. Some of the tracks were originally released by Supraphon and Panton on hard-to-locate vinyl albums, singles and EPs, and there are also four pieces that were previously unreleased. Real care has been taken with the sound quality: Ian Shepherd's 24-bit transfers of the original analog tapes are clean but still colourful. Care has also been taken with the presentation: there are extensive and interesting liner notes from Lukáš Machata (DJ Lou Kash) and some fantastic 1970s photographs provided by Emil and singer Eva Svobodová.

Five of the tracks, spread out across the album, are from a 1979 Prague session with Vinne Johnson (drums), Kermit Driscoll (bass guitar) and Bill Frisell (electric guitar). Friends from his year at Berklee, they came to Prague for a two-day recording session with Viklický. These pieces, originally from the Okno LP, are pure funk. The grooves are strong, with big bouncy bass riffs and tight, precise drumming. The keyboard parts will come as a revelation to those who consider Viklický solely as a pianist: here he's working on analog synthesizer, electric piano and clavinet.

“Trochu Funky” (“The Funky Way”, E. Viklický) is opened by the rhythm section before keyboards and guitar join in. The melodic approach and attention to detail that typify Emil's piano playing are much in evidence. There are washes of sound and delicate highlights as well as the down and dirty funk. He plays fast with a lot of intricate touches, and there is some good interplay and union with Frisell on guitar.

“Květen” (“Maytime”, E. Viklický) opens with a sweep before falling into a jaunty pattern. There are some sweet escalating chord progressions and Johnson employs a light and airy touch while still keeping things pinned down. There is more electric piano and some nice bendy synth notes. Frisell again goes for the burn before the whole thing rises to a powerful climax.

“Boston” (E. Viklický) is rapid and choppy, the quartet on overdrive. Leads are shared between keyboards and guitar, and Johnson gets to do a drum solo without abusing the privilege. “Zase Zapomněli Zavřít Okno” (“They've Left The Window Open Again”, E. Viklický) is a slower-paced funk experience, although still with a satisfyingly fat, squidgy sound. Less fiery and more contemplative, it shows a different side of this quartet. “Jumbo Jet” (E. Viklický), the final piece from this session, is again a slower and spacier number and is thoughtfully delivered.

The four previously unreleased tracks on The Funky Way feature Viklický in yet another role unfamiliar to many of his fans: as the leader of a big band. The Emil Viklický Studio Big Band pieces, arranged and conducted by the man himself, are 2-track recordings and so their sound quality is not quite as good as the rest of the collection. It is still pretty decent though, and the brass comes over brightly. Given the quality of the arrangements and their historical significance (they're out of Emil's own archives), their inclusion is most welcome.

“Ještě Jednou Slunce” (“Once Again Sun”, E. Viklický) is a full-blooded affair with stomping bass and punchy brass. It is mainly led by saxophone, with keyboard instruments taking a back seat. The arrangement is sophisticated and satisfying, blending the traditional big band sound with a funky rhythm section. “70. Východní” (“East 70th Street”, E. Viklický) starts with a brassy fanfare before opening out into busy high-tempo big band jazz. It is tight and precise stuff from this outfit of (according to the liner notes) unknown personnel.

The majestic “Hromovka” (“Thunderhouse”, E. Viklický) has a melancholy opening but soon settles into the funky pattern once more, with a slower ultra-groovy bass riff and staccato piano rumbling away under a wide-screen sleazy feast of brass and woodwind. “Siesta” (E. Viklický) picks up the pace again, with some mellow sax and piano moments being juxtaposed against powerful brass.

The Okno session and the Studio Big Band are both projects that are no longer currently active, but that is not true of some of the other collaborations featured on The Funky Way.

There are two tracks from SQH, the outfit that Viklický joined in 1974. SQH also featured Karel Velebný on vibraphone, Ivan Smažík on drums, Jaromír Helešic on percussion, and František Uhlíř on double bass. Yes... the same František 'Paganini of the Bass” Uhlíř who currently plays in Emil's Trio. When you see them play together their communication is almost telepathic. Little surprise, given that their shared history reaches back over 35 years!

“Týden” (“Week”, E. Viklický) is a joyfully airy piece of jazz-rock that feels good. It's fast and it bounds along with playful interaction between vibes and piano, often falling back into satisfying phrases. Drums and percussion are busy and skittish, and Uhlíř's melodic bass twang sounds very much like it does today. The second SHQ piece also features Eva Svobodová on vocals. Yes... the same Eva Svobodová with the same velvet voice that it is worth going to Reduta to see. “Země Plná Lásky” (“A Land Full Of Love”, E. Viklický / V. Čort) heads more into acid-jazz territory, with disjointed rhythms, super-rubbery bass, and a gorgeous sweet chorus excitingly delivered by Svobodová who sounds like she is having real fun. Some slightly surreal spoken comments from Velebný to the rest of the band also help to keep the acid vibe going. It may only clock in at 3:44 but every second is a pleasure.

“Kam S Tím Blues” (“Chega De Saudade”, A. C. Jobim / V. Čort) is taken from Svobodová's own album, Můj Ráj, on which Viklický appeared as part of her backing band. The wooden twangy bass tones give Uhlíř away without even having to look at the credits. It's an enjoyable track, as would be expected from the fusion of an interesting and talented singer with an interesting and talented band.

Last but not least, The Funky Way includes two tracks by 1970s Czechoslovak jazz-rock legends Energit, a band that also included guitarist Luboš Andršt. Yes. The same one.

“Zelený Satén” (“Green Satin”, E. Viklický) dates back to 1976 and is one of several recorded versions of this award-winning piece. The opening melody is lyrical and haunting, played on electric soprano sax by Rudolf Ticháček. Viklický solos on electric piano before making way for a hard-edged burst from Andršt. The conclusion is a reprise of the initial evocative melody.

The last track is the mini-epic “Ráno (Part 1)” (“Morning (Part 1)”, L. Andršt). This is a slightly edited version, but at 13:13 it is still a substantial beast. Intense jazz-rock, with more than a hint of progressive rock in there too, it again kicks off with Ticháček's electric sax. This time the mood is sinister, with unsettled electric piano and guitar patterns swirling underneath. Andršt's solo is fast and jagged. Ticháček walks the line between control and chaos. The electric piano solo is bluesy, the underlying rhythms are funky, and the overall effect is not dissimilar to one of the early 1970s jazzed-up incarnations of King Crimson, only done better. A suitably prolonged outro ends the track and the album.

And so there we have The Funky Way of Emil Viklický. It was worth the wait. The music is very different from the sort of material that he is usually heard playing, and yet it sounds so natural that it is hard to believe he is not a dedicated full-time funk and jazz-rock musician.

For fans of Emil's piano work it is a fascinating insight into his other lives. For those interested in Czechoslovak jazz it is an essential archive collection of excellent and important material. It is also a great listen: a recording full of life and excitement and fun. That is the Funky Way. The only question now remaining is whether Viklický could ever be persuaded hit the road with a Funky Tour...

Venues Guide Updated

An updated version of the PJ Venue Guide is now online and can be found here.

The Charles Bridge Jazz And Blues Club is sadly gone, newcomer Jazz Dock is reassessed, AghaRTA Jazz Centrum is still the best.

This guide is totally impartial, honest, and based on the experiences of PJ. If when you visit the clubs mentioned here you find that there have been any important changes please contact us or leave a comment.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

News: Žižkov Meets Jazz

It is almost time for Prague 3's annual jazz festival, Žižkov Meets Jazz. This event, held at the Palác Akropolis, is usually good fun. The Palác Akropolis is notable for its reasonably priced beverages, and as in previous years there will be some free whisky and cigars. Obviously we in no way endorse chatting up the give-away girls to get extra rations, but it is fair to say that at last year's event PJHQ actually drank and smoked itself into profit.

Žižkov Meets Jazz will take place on November 20th and 21st, and will feature acts such as the Simone Reifegerste Project, the Petr Zelenka Trio, and Beata Hlavenková.

News: New Album from Tomáš Liška

Bass player Tomáš Liška has a new album coming out on 16/11/09. Called Invisible World it will be released on Animal Music. Once again, we hope to have a review up as soon as we get a copy of the album.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

News: Emil Viklický - Janáček Of Jazz

Emil's latest album, Sinfonietta - The Janáček Of Jazz is finally out on Venus Records. More details can be found at the All About Jazz website here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

GigTips: November 2009

It is hard to believe that it was twenty years ago this month. Hard to believe because in some ways the Velvet Revolution seems like such a recent event to those of us who remember it happening, or perhaps we are just unwilling to face the fact that we are now twenty years older than we once were. Hard to believe because, for the outsider at least, looking at Prague today it is difficult to imagine that it could be anything other than a free, vibrant city. Hard to believe, but true.

Jazz played an important part in the artistic rebellion against Communist control. The Jazz Section of the Czech Musician's Union was a notable irritant to officialdom. And so it would be wrong to let this anniversary go by without raising a glass to the musicians, many of whom you can still see on the Czech scene, who worked under oppressive conditions. It is also important that the tradition of Czech jazz is kept alive as part of the artistic soul of the Czech nation, and not relegated to being an unimportant tourist attraction. Here are our tips for November: real live music and as good as it gets.

The one and only guitar genius that is Luboš Andršt will be working at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum this month, with his excellent Luboš Andršt Group appearing twice (6, 24/11). It is fair to say that we do tip his gigs a lot here on Prague Jazz, but he really is that good. His pianist and keyboard player, Ondřej Kabrna, will also be appearing as bandleader with the Ondřej Kabrna Quartet on 7/11. It is a good month at AghaRTA with the Robert Balzar Trio (29/11) and the Emil Viklický Trio (3/11) also dropping by. If this club offered season tickets we would thoroughly recommend getting one.

Another legend of the Czech music scene is composer and conductor Milan Svoboda. He is in action at Le Fabrika on 10/11, alongside saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi (USA):

Robert Balzar and his Trio have an alternate role in Czech music, as the core of singer Dan Bárta's band. It is unusual to see them together performing a small club gig but that is what is on offer at USP Jazz Lounge on 25/11. Be sure to book early as this will surely sell out in advance. If you're in the mood for some good vocal jazz then you are also in luck at USP with Miriam Bayle (14/11) and the Jana Koubková Quartet (13/11).

If you fancy some cool late-night jazz (finishing well after midnight) then Jazz Dock is the place to go. Pianist Najponk will be there on 22/11 and rising guitar star Libor Šmoldas will play with his Quartet on 25/11.

That wraps up our selection of gigs for this month. Of course there is a lot going on in the city so for more information click on the artist and club links to the right. Do remember to book ahead to be sure of a good seat.

Enjoy the music.

Be glad that you can.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Video: Karel Růžička x 2

During the summer the Prague club stages were wowed by the combination of Karel Růžička senior (piano) and Karel Růžička junior (sax). Sadly they don't play together very often, but thanks to the miracle of YouTube we can relive the summer fun throughout the cold winter months. Here they are playing one of Růžička junior's compositions, "Seven Hills":

Details Of The Funky Way

For anyone interested in Emil Viklický's new album, a collection of his jazz/rock work from 1975-1987, full details can be found here. The credits do read as a pretty impressive collection of Czech jazz stars, with some players from the world stage thrown in for good measure.

Our copy should be arriving soon, and a full review will follow.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Blast From The Past: Energit

Here's something very special: Energit's "Paprsek ranního slunce" (Ray of morning sunshine) from the 1970s. Energit were a jazz rock band that featured some of the best local musicians of the time. On this recording you can hear the magical guitar work of a young Mr Luboš Andršt. Enjoy, and play it loud!

News: Filip Benešovský Interview

My interview with Filip Benešovský, the man behind The Wall 2009, can be found here.

This recreation of the famous Pink Floyd show will take place on October 31 in Prague, and the performers will include Prague Jazz favourites such as Radim Hladík, Petr Kalfus and Lada Soukupová. Also appearing will be keyboard player and jazz musician Harry (son of Roger) Waters.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

GigTips: October 2009

Another month has gone by: how quickly the year seems to be slipping away. Apologies for the infrequent updates here on Prague Jazz: real life and other projects (of which hopefully more soon) have been relentlessly eating up my time. But of course there is still time to fill you in on the highlights of the Prague jazz scene for October.

At AghaRTA Jazz Centrum this month there is something very special: two nights (12, 13 /10) of the Jurkovič-Uhlíř-Helešic Trio. Alongside bassist František Uhlíř (often seen in Emil Viklický's Trio) will be two-handed tapping expert Darko Jurkovič and drummer Jaromír Helešic. These three brilliant musicians are undertaking a small European tour, performing in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg and, of course, the Czech Republic. Their music is exciting and complex (but still strongly melodic) modern jazz – see them if you can.

At Jazz Dock the Infinite Quintet will be launching their new album, Speak Slowly, on 13/10. Innovative and challenging pianist Beata Hlavenková will perform there with her Trio on 15/10, and Ondřej Pivec returns from New York City for three nights with his Organic Quartet (16, 17, 18/10).

U Malého Glena has lots of good music this October, with the Robert Balzar Trio back in action on 8/9, and a collaboration between a fine pianist and a fine singer, Matej Benko and Miriam Bayle, on 23/10.

And finally, as is now traditional, if you really must go to Reduta then go and see the very wonderful Emil Viklický Trio. They will be there on 14/10, performing their usual blend of jazz standards, original compositions, and interpretations of traditional Moravian songs. We saw them last month and even by their usual standards they were superb, with lots of energy flowing through the band.

This is, of course, just a small taste of what is out there. Do follow our links to the club websites for full schedules, and remember to book ahead to be sure of getting a good table. And please don't forget to tell the venue that you saw the gig listed here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

News: Ondřej Pivec on Tour

Ondřej Pivec and his Organic Quartet will return to action in Prague this autumn. He's been back in NYC for a few weeks but will be working hard when he gets back on home turf in October, including three nights at Jazz Dock. He will also be heading out to Brno and Ostrava!

Details can be found on his website.

News: Jazz Dance at USP

News: The Funky Way Of Emil Viklický

Great news for all fans of Emil Viklický: the collection of his 1970s and 1980s work with some of the other great names of Czech music (and indeed some great names from around the world) is almost with us.

It will be released on CD and also LP (there are some real audiophiles working on this project) by Vampisoul.

For more details please look here.

We'll be running a review here on PJ as soon we we get our hands on it!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

New Albums

There are a couple of new albums to look forward to in the second half of 2009:

Infinite Quintet will release their debut album Speak Slowly. It will be officially launched at Jazz Dock on 13th October.

Pianist Jan Knop (better known as Najponk) is launching his new work, Night Lights, this September and will be playing at U Malého Glena.

[Information from]

News: Changes at USP

USP Jazz Lounge are changing their style of programme, with the inclusion of more intimate acoustic nights, and also jazz dance nights. These special events are clearly marked on their website. They are also bringing some of the menu prices down, something that we here at Prague Jazz always think is a good idea.

They do have some good gigs at USP and it is a venue worth checking out when you have the time.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

GigTips: September 2009

Summer is on the way out and longer nights are on the way in, but that's no reason to be sad because the jazz of Prague is always in season. The leaves may turn brown but the music is evergreen here in this most special of cities. September will see a lull in the tourist crowds, but that just means more empty seats for locals to occupy while enjoying the unique sounds of the Prague Jazz world. So, what are you waiting for?

There are few more evergreen jazzers than pianist (and Prague Jazz favourite) Emil Viklický. He will be at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum on 18/9 with his Trio, playing his usual mix of standards, Moravian folk songs, and original compositions. The AghaRTA stage is quite small but if you would like to see just how many musicians it can hold then the reformed Yandim Band are unmissable (16, 17/9). They manage to squeeze nine up there, including three singers and Czech guitar legend Slávek Janda. Funky and fun they are an outfit worth seeing. Also good fun will be the Rhythm Desperados on 21,22/9.

At USP Jazz Lounge in September will be the recently reviewed musician, Karel Růžička sr. His saxophone playing son is back in New York City but the Czech pianist returns to action with his Trio on 10/9. Expect things dark. And heavy. And beautiful. On other nights you can see the Robert Balzar Trio (8/9) and the silky-voiced Veronika Diamant (27/9).

If last month's review and videos have made you want to go and see Stan the Man's Bohemian Blues Band then you can catch him every Monday night at U Malého Glena. Do make sure that you book ahead though: the size of the club means that with no reservation you probably will not get a table, never mind a table at the front. Alternatively you can go and see Goran Bregović, without reservation and for free, in the large expanse of Old Town Square on 17/9 (from 19:30). Okay, he's not really jazz (more like “crazy Balkan”), but this acclaimed musician from the former Yugoslavia is on tour with his “Weddings and Funerals Band” and wants to give us a free gig. Good man!

Finally, our traditional “if you must...” tip for going to Reduta. Eva Svobodová will be singing there on 29/9. Her voice is so beautiful that it makes up for the bar prices.

If you are interested in finding out more about some of the artists mentioned here please do take a look through our site: many of them have had their gigs and albums reviewed. If you want to know more about what is happening in general then follow the links to the clubs and the artists (on the right hand side). Please remember to book ahead to be sure of a good table, and do tell the venue that you saw the gig listed here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Stan the Man on Video

Following our recent review of Stan the Man's Bohemian Blues Band we thought that it would be fun to feature a couple of videos of them in action. Play them loud and enjoy:


I Can't Sleep:

News: Jaromír Honzák "50"

Master of the acoustic bass Jaromír Honzák will be celebrating his 50th birthday in style at the Palác Akropolis on 31/8. His guests will include many luminaries of the Czech scene, including Iva Bittová, Marek Eben, David Dorůžka, Beata Hlavenková and Jiří Slavíček.

The Akropolis is a fun venue with cheap beer and a starting time (19:00) that allows you to get to bed at a reasonable hour, something essential for a Monday night gig! More information (including ticket details) can be found here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gig Review: Stan The Man's Bohemian Blues Band

U Malého Glena
17th August 2009

Edinburgh-born Stanislaw “Stan the Man” Wolarz is a true legend of the Prague live music scene. His Bohemian Blues Band has been in action for over a decade, based here but also touring around Europe. Even those expatriates who have somehow (I blame ignorance and stupidity) managed to remain unromanced by the music of Prague have heard of Stan. Tales of stumbling upon him and his outfit playing in some pub somewhere are part of the standard tale of the “good old days”, along with how cheap the beer used to be and how pretty it all was BT. Before Tesco.

Stan gigs a lot, but his most famous engagement is Monday night at U Malého Glena, the club that boasts “you have never been so close to music”. They have a point: At Little Glen's is a tiny place, with two rows of tables lined up in a semi-claustrophobic tunnel. At my usual seat at my usual table, at the front of course, my feet were only a few inches away from the front of the kick drum. It's a fun little joint, only let down by the fact that you have also probably never been so close to punching people to make them shut up during the sets. And gentlemen, beware the toilet door that opens with a clear view out onto the stairs. You have never been so close to flashing your wang at strangers.

The problem of talking isn't so great during Stan's concerts as it might be with others. Most people are stunned into silence, breaking it only to show their appreciation or express astonishment at the ferocious guitar technique they are seeing. The few remaining chatterers are drowned out, because the Bohemian Blues Band is loud. Seriously loud. Refreshingly loud. Electric guitar from Stan and electric bass from Anton Duratný. Acoustic drums from Kamil Nemec, but hit so hard and placed so close that amplification was unnecessary.

This is a band that sounds raw and real. They do not produce a slick, polished, syrupy “music product” to be played in the background at dinner parties. It is about emotion, it is about having fun, but it is mostly about the blues. Stan's trademark growled vocals are all feeling: even when the words get lost in the wall of sound the meaning is always clear. The meaning comes through his instrument as well, the Telecaster wailing, humming, responding to delicate touches and aggressive strikes alike. His mastery of his axe is staggering. The meaning comes through the man as well. He means it with every inch of his body. There is expression in everything he does.

Even when they played more familiar material it was never ordinary or average. “The Thrill Is Gone”(R. Darnell, R. Hawkins) was darker, dirtier, and spikier than B.B. King's famous version. “Further On Up The Road” (J. Veasey, D. Robey) was unforgiving. “I Just Want To Make Love To You” (W.Dixon) was pure sleaze. “Not Fade Away” (C. Hardin, N. Petty) was a blast, in the middle of which Stan left the stage while his band took their solos. The bass solo was funky, the drum solo was fast and showy; a drumstick-between-the-teeth moment got a loud cheer. It was their only big solo session of the night, the format of the gig being based on songs rather than extended individual extrapolations.

For the last two sets the band was joined by Robin Finesilver on piano. The small size of UMG means that a grand is out of the question, the only choice being an upright against the wall, honky tonk style. It suited the Bohemian Blues Band: a more refined instrument would have been unsatisfyingly out of place. With Finesilver in position the sound was more diverse, his enthusiastic pummelling of the keys sharing solo spots with Stan's six strings. Again the audience loved it, lapping up the action from a close range. Even those attendees who knew nothing about music liked the fact that the band was working hard. It was also fun to watch these guys working together, and at times fooling around. The occasional deliberate false start, the occasional jokey introduction.

We were well into tomorrow morning when the gig finished. “Big Boss Man” (J. Reed) ended the main set. Even though some of the earlier crowd had left during the last break – it always happens with late gigs – there were still more than enough of us to force an encore of “Hound Dog” (J. Leiber, M. Stoller) before the performers were allowed to escape.

Stan Wolarz is an entertainer. He speaks to the audience, will chat with the punters after the gig, and obviously takes pride in putting on a good show. He is also a musician to the core, who loves the blues and plays it with a passion and authenticity that brings it to life in a whole new way. It is not karaoke. It is not blues-lite. It is rough around the edges but in a satisfying way: a roughness that scratches away the itch of everyday life. Take the chance to see him if you can. You will never have been so close to the blues.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Prague Jazz Goes To Oxford

Cherwell, the Oxford University student newspaper, has published a feature on jazz in Prague. It always nice to read articles that focus on the jazz scene here being alive and creative, and not just perpetuating the myth that it is a circus for tourists.

You can read the piece here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Gig Review: Karel Růžička Quartet feat. Karel Růžička jr.

Jazz Dock
2nd August 2009

I am very glad that they play different instruments and in different styles. Karel Růžička senior, a driving pianist, master of uneasy listening, caller down of the thunder. His son, Karen Růžička junior, a Grammy-nominated saxophonist, slick and soaring with lightening moves. Both incredibly talented, both writers, both arrangers, both charismatic onstage and off. But thankfully different: different enough that the awkward question of which of the two is better need not arise, and therefore the thoughtful listener is spared from making an arbitrary decision in order to tick a mental box. Like two fine spirits they are both intoxicating, both enjoyable. But mix them together in the right way, throw in a couple of extra ingredients, and let them shake it all up: jazz cocktail, jazz brilliance.

Růžička sr., award winner, composer, and former president of the Czech Jazz Society, can often be seeing playing in the jazz clubs of Prague with his Trio. His son is now based in New York City, a busy and acclaimed player on the local scene there. The two of them playing together is a special event, a fact reflected in the atmosphere at Jazz Dock. The rain was pouring down outside, a passing storm ripped the sky apart, but inside the purpose-built riverside venue there was even more of a buzz than usual.

Alongside the Karels the band comprised of Růžička sr.'s frequent collaborators, Josef Fečo on basses and Radek Němejc on drums: a tight unit of proficient musicians who know each other well. They played hard and with purpose, opening their account for the evening with a salvo of solos set into melodic group playing. That would be the format of the night, with the transitions between ensemble and individual sections always slick, always organic, never forced or clumsy.

Růžička jr.'s tenor sax work was spellbinding and clearly appreciated by the audience, who responded to his explorations spontaneously and enthusiastically. He is fast, very fast in fact, but never loses his sense of melody, never just burns for the sake of it. The tone he produces is rich and pleasing, as expressive as the notes he plays. At times he evoked grandeur, and at times beauty, and at times it was just nice'n'sleazy, the way that midnight jazz should sometimes be.

His father was not left in the shade, playing deep with lots of left hand, his work on their interpretation of “House of Jade” (W. Shorter) exciting yet contemplative. It was a pleasure seeing the pair perform together; the astonishing telepathy by which jazzers communicate being even stronger than normal between the two of them.

They played a lot of original material, concentrating on Růžička jr.'s compositions. “Lucky in Kentucky” (also known as “Seven Hills”) gave us sweet, stupefying saxophone and some thumping work on piano. “Coffee Machine” did exactly what the title suggests, frantic, edgy and at high speed, but again it was a good tune and not just a technical exercise. “Coffee Machine” also saw Fečo swap his acoustic bass for an electric five-stringed version, on which he funked and slapped joyfully. Normally with Růžička sr.'s Trio he keeps it acoustic, and it was a bit of a shock to see him on guitar. He also used it for “Groovy Blues”, (his electric solo was a revelation – who knew?) and “Flight”, both upbeat Růžička jr. numbers.

It was spectacular, it felt good. It was one of those nights. Libor Pešek, the world famous conductor and former musical director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic came forward to the stage when a song was dedicated to him and was clearly having fun. We had a blast of "Summertime" (G. Gerswin) as a sax, drums and bass trio. Růžička sr. directed the clapping. I got filmed grooving in the corner by Růžička jr.'s girlfriend. Some glass got broken in the back rows towards the end of the night. It wasn't that the music was the background to some social event; people were listening intently. It's just that with so much energy on the stage some of it rubs off onto the audience!

All through the night Radek Němejc kept time and kept it anchored. Subtle and responsive, his shifting rhythms and patterns took their place in the soundscape without being overbearing. Some nice work with brushes and mallets kept his sound interesting, kept the listener wanting to listen.

It was back to the standards towards the end, with “Giant Steps” (J. Coltrane) bopping hard with lots of energy. There was no way that they were getting away from Jazz Dock without an encore that night. Father and son returned to the stage, the younger picked up his flute, and together they finished off with “Largo” from Dvořák’s “New World Symphony”. It started simple, a duet straight and by the book, before each in turn took their bow with a last flash of improvisation. Two men, two instruments, a simple melody, but somehow epic and definitely emotional.

It was great stuff, and it was a special treat to see the two Růžičkas playing together. Senior is one of the great names of Czech jazz, not only in terms of his playing but also his importance in developing the music in the country. Junior is worthy of taking the stage with this modest giant of the genre, and worthy of carrying his name.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

GigTips: August 2009

August, and the end of the summer is with us. Holidaymakers from around the world are with us too, visiting this great city and hopefully coming to sample some of the jazz for which Prague is rightly famous. Do remember though that it is not just for the tourists: for any music-loving resident of Prague at a loose end the jazz clubs are always a good option. The music is very real, the standard very high, and not all the clubs are very expensive!

The cheapest club to get into and drink in, as long as you stay off the silly cocktails, is the new late night haven, Jazz Dock. Prague-based Chicago bluesman Rene Trossman will be passing through on 4/8, while excellent young saxophonist Petr Kalfus will be there with his Quartet on 16/8. If you are feeling adventurous and fancy a bit of Nu-jazz then respected acoustic bassist Jaromír Honzák will play with his Face of the Bass project on 13/8.

There will be a special gig at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum on 7/8, not just one Karel Růžička but two! The acclaimed pianist is joined by his son, the saxophonist now based in New York City. It will be exciting to see them play together but be warned, Růžička senior is not an exponent of easy listening! Expect the music to be mostly melodic but usually challenging. The Rhythm Desperados will be up to their usual fun and frolics for two nights (23,24/8) followed by the ever brilliant Luboš Andršt Group (25,26/8).

There is also brilliance on offer at USP Jazz Lounge in August, with the superb František “Paganini of the Bass” Uhlíř playing with his Trio on 12/8, and modern pianist Beata Hlavenková fronting her outfit on 20/8.

Finally for this month, if you really want to sample the slice of Prague jazz history that is Reduta, then 31/8 is your best bet: the ever-enjoyable Emil Viklický will be on with his Trio.

This is just a small selection of what's on offer; personal recommendations from PJHQ. Do follow the links to the club websites for a fuller picture, and don't forget to reserve your places to be sure of good seats. And please, do let the venue know that you saw the gig tipped here on Prague Jazz.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gig Review: Rhythm Desperados

AghaRTA Jazz Centrum
28th July 2009

Turning on the television or reading a newspaper can bring you down. Swine flu, terrorism, floods, droughts, economic chaos, unemployment, the enduring appeal of Oasis: everything's total rubbish. Sometimes it feels like there is no fun left in the world. But then something comes along to remind you that, against all odds, there actually there is: Rhythm Desperados.

This is not a reversal of policy at PJHQ - we're still music snobs of the highest order - but outfits that can combine excellent original writing, interesting arranging, superb playing, and still fool around on the stage joyously are sadly few and far between. As such they deserve all the attention they can get.

The band is based round a core of Boris Urbánek (keys), Michal Žáček (saxes and flute) and Michal Hejna (drums). Bass and percussion duties are more flexible, with Martin Lehký and Pavel Plánka often filling the roles but for this gig it was Imran Musa Zangi hitting things like a nutter and Wimpy Tichota taking care of the low end. All of them are fine musicians, playing in a wide variety of bands. When they come together as Rhythm Desperados it is almost a “supergroup” of modern Czech jazz, although the term is not really correct. Supergroups tended to collapse under the weight of their own egos and the whole was often less than the sum of the parts. This is certainly not what happens with this band.

The first set was straight down the line, focusing mainly on original work composed by the talented Urbánek. Žáček leads from the front, an emotive whole-body player who really makes the instrument sing and uses the range of the soprano saxophone well. His solos were intense and instinctive, real crazy knife-edge stuff, but they were always placed naturally into the songs and never uncomfortably stuck on to prove a point. The keyboard solos were pretty intense too, again dispensed with good taste as well as fast fingers.

The rhythm section was certainly not being shown up while all this was going on, playing very fast and very furious. "Volcano" (B. Urbánek) featured both drummer and percussionist thrashing away like mad while tension was built up using synthesiser rumbles and swooshes. Tichota, as well as putting bounce into the funky sound, also had some really sweet moments such as in "First Snow" (B. Urbánek), playing melodic bass runs in unison with rolling piano.

The overall tempo was fast and upbeat, moments of funk and moments of fusion, with some Latin flavours too. It was a good mix of sounds, cohesive but with enough variation to be interesting. There were also gentler times during the show, such as the romantic "Déjà vu" (B. Urbánek), but celebratory rather than contemplative was the order of the day.

The second set was where the fun broke loose. An opening piano and flute duet that deviated into The Big Country. "Sunny" (B. Hebb) was given a lively presentation with gaps left for the audience to sing the “I love you” line. That then turned into a medley that incorporated Für Elise, Bésame Mucho and Popcorn. All with tongue very firmly in cheek of course, the band having previously set out its impeccable artistic credentials and now at complete liberty to screw around. The crowd loved it, although I do wish that audiences in general were as receptive to original, exciting music as they always are to stuff they've heard on the radio.

The club was pretty full considering that it was a midweek gig, and as usual for AghaRTA most people were there to listen. There are always exceptions, in this case a few French persons who drank small coffees and had big mouths. A couple of dirty looks did the trick, and pretty soon they were fully collaborating. But if you want to talk why get a table right at the front, right by the stage? As well as disrupting the music for others it is just rude to the band, an especially odd thing to do when the garlic gang were actually enjoying the show.

The remainder of the evening wasn't just fooling around with familiar numbers: there was more original material to come, including “All Or Nothing”, that Urbánek told us he wrote a quarter of a century ago. Regardless of age it sounded fresh, something that could be said about the Rhythm Desperados in general, and also about their stomping version of “Birdland” (J. Zawinul). Big and meaty, properly loud, and the band having a ball.

Watching this outfit was half the pleasure. Zangi's work on percussion was relentless, only interrupted when he reached down to pull out yet another stick, block, shaker, thing that goes boing, or a cocktail. Žáček's total commitment to his playing was spectacular, and Urbánek is no slouch either; some excellent playing from him as well as a lot of enthusiasm, getting the audience clapping along and generally looking like he was enjoying himself.

The Rhythm Desperados are an interesting and unusual band. There are some groups in this city that pursue creative excellence and there are some that just set out to entertain. These guys prove that the two are not mutually exclusive. It was hard not to be impressed by their musicianship and the original compositions. It was also hard not to smile. Go and see them. It's probably more fun than anything else you've got planned.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

News: AghaRTA Open Air Concerts

This year's AghaRTA Open Air Concerts will take place on August 1st and 2nd, in the beautiful setting of Prague's Old Town Square. The performances are between 14:00 and 20:00 each day, feature some of the big names of Czech jazz (including Jan Štolba, Štěpán Markovič, Pavel Razím, Rhythm Desperados), and are totally free. These gigs are always a special event so come along if you can.

The full details can be found here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

News: Emil Viklický Album Release Date

Hot news from the man himself: The new Emil Viklický Trio album, Sinfonietta - Janáček Of Jazz, will be out on October 29th, 2009.

The prospect of this record is causing no little excitement here at PJHQ - obviously we will post review of the album as soon as we get our hands on it!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Emil Viklický London Review

There was a very interesting review of the recent concert at which Emil appeared alongside two Swedish acts, marking the handover of the European Union presidency. It was published in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper: you can read it it here. Emil may not have been the headline act but he was the star of the show!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Photos From The Organic DVD Recording

Here are some pictures from the recent DVD recording at Divadlo Disk on 16/7, courtesy of photographer Patrick Marek.

Apology: A Mess of Emails!

For some reason Blogger published some of my emails as postings on this site. I am not sure how it happened and will be checking the security settings on my machine. I have now removed the mess of emails: please be assured that this site is NOT becoming a feast of spam!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Organic DVD Recording

Last night (16/7) saw the much awaited concert by Ondřej Pivec and friends, recorded for DVD release by Animal Music in 2010. This was a professional job: Divadlo Disk packed to capacity, five cameras (including one on a boom for sweeping shots over the stage and audience), and over two hours of great music.

The first set was by the Organic Quartet in familiar format with Kuba Doležal on tenor saxophone, Libor Šmoldas on guitar, and Tomáš Hobzek working away on the kit. They played their usual brand of original material, honed and refined on the road. Ondřej's rig now features a new Hammond put through a Leslie cabinet, recreating one of the greatest sounds in music.

For the second set they were joined by saxophonist Joel Frahm (USA), along with Miroslav Hloucal on trumpet. The result was a tight sextet, double sax and trumpet working well. Frahm was on stellar form, his wild solos rapturously received.

The grand finale saw the stage straining to also accommodate the dozen or so members of the Bucinatores Big Band: brass, woodwind, Tomáš Liška on bass, and a big, big sound. With so many players the music was more structured but there was still room for improvisation. It was then back to the sextet for the first encore, and finally a trio of Frahm, Pivec, and Šmoldas to softly play out the night.

Both sets were good, the second especially so in places. The sextet managed to hit the zone where the music had something really special going on. The DVD should be treat: look out of news (and of course an in-depth review) on Prague Jazz.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bohemia Jazz Fest in The Prague Post

An unusually interesting article about the Bohemia Jazz Fest is featured in this week's Prague Post - you can read it here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

News: Ondřej Pivec on TV

According to OP's management Ondřej will be on news channel ČT24 tonight (July 8th) at 19:30 (Prague time) with his band. If you don't have access to the channel you can also watch over the internet at

Update, 8/7/09 (19:00) - Sadly the powers to be at the TV station have bumped the piece to make room for something on the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Details of rescheduled broadcast when we have them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Gig Review: Ondřej Pivec / Petr Kalfus Trio

Jazz Dock
5th July 2009

Gigs often leave an overriding impression, something about them that really stands out during the night and dominates memories. Sometimes they are historic, sometimes they are outstandingly beautiful. Sometimes you see technical wizardry that makes your fingers hurt just by watching it. Sometimes it is serious and dark and sometimes it is all a bit of a giggle. Sometimes, as was the case this time, it is all about energy. That is not to say that there wasn't virtuoso playing or moments of spine-tingling “rightness” or any of the other good things, but boy was it turbo charged. From opening number to the encore (half past one, the next morning) this band never seemed to let up for an instant.

The Trio was fronted by superb young saxophonist Petr Kalfus, a player who combines the ability to knock out lightening runs with subtlety and a sense of melody. He handles his horn with good taste and, even in the wilds of improvisation, maintains a sense of purpose that keeps the music moving forward.

Ondřej Pivec on Hammond organ made sure that there was plenty of width to the sound, playing melody, left hand bass, and also dancing his feet over the bass pedals. The Hammond is an instrument of restrained power, with one firm full-on blast being all that is needed to leave the front rows of the audience with bleeding ears. Pivec is a true organist, not just a pianist or keyboard player transplanted onto the instrument, and shows a real understanding of how the Hammond works. He's constantly in control of the sound, changing its texture and washing it in and out using a volume pedal.

The regular Trio was completed by drummer Martin Novák, a sensitive and listening player who complimented the work of others instead of ploughing on straight through. His solos were hot, but it was the shifting, sliding, responsive rhythms during ensemble playing that really stood out. The fourth member of the "Trio" was a special guest, acclaimed guitarist and recent returnee from Canada, Petr Zelenka.

Together they formed a tight outfit, pumping out the material with gusto. Kalfus and Zelenka are both physically expressive players, losing themselves in the music as their solos climaxed. There was room for everyone to step out but also some satisfying moments of four-way cooperation. Pivec's rumbling bass notes gave soloists something to soar above. Sax and guitar merged and blended well with each other, the latter being lyrical and smooth at some times, sharp and angular at others.

The band took on some challenging material and delivered it well. Joe Henderson's Inner Urge and Wayne Shorter's Night Dreamer are not the easiest ones in the book to play but they were convincing and enjoyable, interpreted by this hard blowing combo that attacks with style. The tempo was mainly fast and furious, but even when it stepped down a notch the underlying energy remained, generated by the sense of a band having fun.

Some cute variations were thrown in, making sure that the show never got dull. There was a dark, sinister soundscape created by muted organ, guitar, and Novák squeaking the metals. The few ballads were duly balladic and, intentional or not, the playing of a dark smoky number at the stroke of midnight was a neat touch. Nothing says midnight like mellow legato solos and brushes, and it fitted the candlelit tables and waterfront location perfectly.

It was another good gig at the Jazz Dock, a sort of club that is suited to this sort of music. The volume was loud enough to drown out the occasional chatter of posers at the bar and the shaking of iced cocktails. The cool sounds of sax and organ fitted the cool atmosphere of the room, a room that feels like a small piece of New York City moved east. Above all it was good to see a young band playing with so much maturity and flair. While the performance contained many traditional elements this was not jazz by numbers: it was exciting, energetic and very enjoyable.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

GigTips: July 2009

We're now over halfway though 2009, and so far it has been a great year for music if not for the weather. Hopefully we are now going to get some proper summer in the city, although just because it gets hot don't forget your umbrella. Those storms come fast and seemingly out of nowhere!

With luck the rain will hold off for the Bohemia Jazz Fest, the Prague dates of which are 12-13/7. This is a chance to see jazz talent from around the world, including Chris Potter Underground on the Sunday and Medeski, Martin and Wood on the Monday. There will be Czech jazz represented too, in the form of the Milan Svoboda Quartet. Free, and staged in the beautiful setting of Old Town Square, this is an event to savour.

Another unique concert that is worth a mention is bassist George Mraz with Hank Jones (p.) and Willie Jones (dr.) playing at one of the Jazz na Hradě concerts on 14/7.

Just because acts appear regularly it does not make them any less good, and all blues fans are advised not to forget the two great bluesmen of U Malého Glena, Stan “The Man” Wolarz on Mondays and Rene Trossman on Wednesdays. Rene's music is very much Chicago blues whereas Stan belts it out rough and raw, very different but both are fantastic guitarists. Another fantastic guitarist is of course Luboš Andršt: see him at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum on 19-20/7 with his Group.

The newest club on the scene, Jazz Dock, thankfully didn't float away in the recent floods, and if you're after some hard Hammond then watch out for Ondřej Pivec – he'll be there with his Trio and saxophonist Petr Kalfus on 5/7 and with his ORGANIC Quartet on 30-31/7.

As ever this is just a small selection of what is going on. Check out the links below for full details of all the main clubs and festivals. Remember to book ahead if you want to be sure of getting a good table in the smaller clubs, and please do tell the venue that you saw the gig listed here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Viklický / Wellins At AghaRTA

The last night of this CZ-GB mini-tour (28/6) was once again a delight to witness. Bass duties were taken over by Petr Dvorský but otherwise the outfit was the same as before: Emil Viklický, Bobby Wellins and Dave Wickens.

It was probably the tightest of the three performances, loaded with improvisation but always retaining melody and musicality. From the lyrical to the blistering they tore through such exciting material as Caravan (J. Tizol) and the gorgeous Monk's Mood (T. Monk). The lack of repetition over the three dates was truly impressive, with the outfit producing three very different shows.

It was a true privilege and pleasure to see these gentlemen making music together and it is to be hoped that Bobby and Dave pass this way again soon.

(Left to right: Dave Wickens, Bobby Wellins, Petr Dvorský, Emil Viklický, Tony Emmerson)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Photos: Viklický / Wellins At Wallenstein Garden

Summer rain interfered with proceedings at Wallenstein Garden yesterday (27/6) but the quartet still played for an hour to a damp but appreciative crowd.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Emil Viklický & Bobby Wellins

British sax legend Bobby Wellins (he of Stan Tracey's Under Milk Wood fame) is in town and playing with Emil in a short burst of concentrated coolness. They were at Reduta on 26/6, will be at the Wallenstein Garden at 6PM on 27/6, and also at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum on 28/6. They don't play together often but it is tight, exciting, fun and powerful. This is the cream of modern European jazz jamming together: real music by real musicians.

The full band comprises of Emil with with Bobby Wellins, Dave Wickens (drums), and his regular bassist František Uhlíř.

Pictures from Reduta (26/6):