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!