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.