Saturday, April 18, 2009

News: Viklický in London

This summer there will be a rare chance for British jazz enthusiasts to see one of Central Europe's best jazz musicians. Pianist Emil Viklický will be playing at the City of London Festival on June 30th. Details can be found here.

Jazz na Hradě 2009

Details of upcoming concerts in the Jazz na Hradě (Jazz at the Castle) series can be found here.

Already lined up to perform are the Košvanec Jazz Orchesra (21/4) and the Karel Růžička Septet (13/5).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

CD Review: Emil Viklický 60

Multisonic 31 0756-2, 2009

It can be a demanding life being one of a country’s leading jazz musicians. Not only is there a heavy schedule of live performances and the strain of frequently being on the road to contend with, but also private events turn into public affairs. Spare a thought for the guys gigging over Christmas, Easter and other holidays. We fancy a night of entertainment. For them it is a night of work. And so it is with birthdays, especially the big ones. Most of us would like to have a night of idleness for our 60th birthday party, not a night at work that will be recorded for posterity. But thankfully for jazz fans that is exactly what Emil Viklický did for his 60th, and the result is the live album Emil Viklický 60.

The good thing about birthday parties is that you can invite your friends to come. If your friends happen to include inventive and acclaimed musicians from around the globe then so much the better. As such this album features a fine selection of players, including Hendrik Meurkens (harmonica), Steve Houben and Julian Nicholas (woodwind), and Richard Weller (drums). Low stuff is provided by regular collaborator František “Paganini of the Bass” Uhlíř, and there is also an appearance by the great Laco Tropp who normally drums with the Emil Viklický Trio.

The first track is listed as an introduction by Czech President Václav Klaus. It is not, as one might sneakily hope, samples of his more outrageous speeches set to a thumping avant-garde backdrop. Instead it is a simple and warm welcome, and held within this is an acknowledgement of the pianist’s stature.

The music begins with “In The Mists” (L. Janáček, arr. E.Viklický) played in the Trio format, with Uhlíř and Tropp. It starts with a sad but sweet solo piano line before the other guys kick in. From there it is a rolling ride, with Tropp subtly propelling things forward from his kit. Emil’s piano work is excellent as usual, combining lightening chops, good taste, touches of dissonance to create tension, and triumphant releases. Uhlíř solos with style, during which there is some nice piano interplay going on underneath. While this album is about the whole ensemble and Viklický’s big birthday band, “In The Mists” is a spectacular chance to hear what his regular Trio is capable of doing.

For the rest of the album Tropp surrenders the drum stool to California-based Richard Weller and they are joined by Julian Nicholas on saxes. “A Thousand Ships” (J. Nicholas) opens with nice’n’sleazy tenor sax before falling into a jaunty rhythm. Nicholas leads the way but the busyness and sophistication of the band gives the music a multi-layered feel while still retaining a strong sense of melody and clarity. There is also some fast piano work and a drum solo played over elastic bass.

“Noa Noa” (S. Mendez) sees the band completed with the addition of Houben and Meurkens. The latter is a blindingly good harmonica player who handles the humble instrument with virtuoso skills. His sound blends well with Houben’s work on flute, a fluid and airy combination that helps give this album a wide variety of moods.

“What’s New” (B. Haggart) sees Houben on sax for a number that he has regularly performed as a guest with the EVT. Again the interplay with harmonica is beautiful, giving the piece a slow bluesy feel rising to a wide-screen climax and fluttering finish.

“One January Morning” (J. Nicholas) has the full band working together, exchanging lines and harmonising around an optimistic melody. This is definitely a January morning of blue skies and scenic frost, not one of bleak grey and drizzle. Although playing as a sextet this outfit never falls into chaos. Everyone is busy and nobody is stuck on the sidelines keeping out of the way, but despite the density of the music it never becomes a slab of noise. It is an intricately woven tapestry of sound and you can tell that they were having a ball.

Meurkens first visited Prague in November 1989 and shortly after that he wrote “Prague in March”, a slinky winding piece that once more features wonderful interplay between harmonica and flute. “Aspen Leaf” (E.Viklický) is another smooth number, this time with sax and harmonica lines twisting and dancing together over busy drums, bass and piano. There is a cracking solo from Viklický towards the end that falls beautifully back into the main melody.

“Caravan” (J. Tizol, D. Ellington) receives a high-energy treatment delivered with panache and bite, including a double woodwind attack and fiery drum solo.

“What Now My Love” (G. Bécaud) is the last piece on the recording and sums up what the album is about. It’s lovely, it’s fun, and it features some very talented guys getting down and making music together.

Emil Viklický 60 is a special album, musically rewarding and an enjoyable listen. It is a celebration of the man who is not only a towering presence on the Czech jazz scene but who has also made an impact worldwide. It is also, in a music business that so often places business above music, refreshing to hear music played with so much joy. Listen to this album. You will be happier afterwards.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jazz na Hradě Recordings

Recordings of the Jazz na Hradě (Jazz at the Castle) concerts can be found for sale by Multisonic here. These reasonably priced live recordings feature some of the best artists currently playing on the Czech scene.

Included in the selection is the recently released and most excellent Emil Viklický 60.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

News: Jazz Dock

There is now another new venue on the Prague Jazz scene: Jazz Dock

Their website (still under development) can be found here, with an impressive looking schedule for April.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

News: Luboš Plays in Hong Kong!

Luboš Andršt must now be regarded as the Czech Republic's foremost artistic ambassador! Here's the story of his Hong Kong visit from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs!

News: Festival Polička Jazz 09

With the warm weather comes the festival season and the chance to experience great live jazz all over this wonderful country. If you fancy heading out of the city later this month then you may want to drop by the Jazz Festival in Polička. Details can be found here.

News: Luboš At The Castle

At least one good thing came from Obama's visit to Prague - before Barry the Prophet took to the stage the gathered crowd were treated to some music from the Luboš Andršt Blues Band! Sadly we were not there to witness this great event (the music, not the speech), but hopefully it was much appreciated.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

GigTips: April 2009

Despite a few false starts it seems that spring is really here in Prague. The temperatures are up, the beer is cool, the green shoots of new life are on the trees, and the local ladies are digging out their summer wardrobes. Yes, life is good.

The warmer weather also means a huge influx of tourists, and if any jazz fans are planning a visit to Prague and stumble upon this website I hope they find it useful. Of course not all visitors to the jazz clubs of Prague are serious about music, and they can be bloody annoying. When you go to an art gallery you do not expect your fellow visitors to doodle on the paintings. When you go to the theatre you do not expect members of the audience to jump up onto the stage and interfere with the leading lady. And so why some people think that talking and making loud noises while musicians perform is acceptable is totally beyond me. If you get one of these prats sitting next to you please do the decent thing by the rest of the audience and the performers and tell them to shut up. It works.

So now we’ve got that sorted here’s what we at Prague Jazz think you should be checking out in April:

AghaRTA Jazz Centrum is offering a quality programme as usual, with highlights including the sublime Luboš Andršt Group (6, 7 / 4), the energetic virtuoso outfit Rhythm Desperados (8, 9 / 4), and fun vocal jazz from Madfinger (15, 16 / 4).

There are cool things happening at the Lucerna Music Bar in April, with Latin singer Yvonne Sanchez (16 / 4) and Slovak blues/funkster Peter Lipa (27 / 4). Remember to work up a thirst before you go because as well as being a good music venue Lucerna also has the cheapest tank Pilsner Urquell you will find in the centre of Prague.

U Malého Glena plays host to Ondřej Pivec's ORGANIC Quartet featuring Betty Lee (12 / 4) which will be well worth a listen if you can get the Americans to shut up, meanwhile at USP Jazz Lounge there is a chance to see the intense Karel Růžička Trio (24 / 4).

Of course there is much more going on so please do check out the venue links for full schedules, and also look though our reviews for an indication of what to expect. Remember to book ahead to be sure of a seat, and please do tell the venue that you saw the gig tipped here.

And finally, good luck to HC Slavia Praha in this year's ice hockey play off finals!

News: JazzFestBrno 09

The ticket information and schedules for this year's JazzFestBrno can be found online here.

This year's programme includes the fabulous and innovative Beáta Hlavenková, the excellent Slovak singer Peter Lipa, and rising young stars Infinite Quintet.