Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Funky Review From South Africa

It is always good to see Czech jazz artists getting the recognition they deserve from critics worldwide. You can read what the Mail & Guardian, a South African newspaper, says about The Funky Way of Emil Viklický here: Czech the funk

Monday, March 29, 2010

News: Prague Jazz on Facebook

Prague Jazz now has an official page on Facebook. Please feel free to drop by and become a fan to take part in discussions, share thoughts about concerts you have seen, and chat about Czech jazz.

Musicians are more than welcome to post news about upcoming gigs and album releases.

The PJ FB page can be found here.

CD Review: Live In Vienna

Emil Viklický Trio
Cube Metier / MJCD 2945, 2010

Earlier in March pianist Emil Viklický told Prague Jazz that he believes his new Live In Vienna record has more raw energy than any of his Trio's previous live releases. He has a point, and a good one at that.

This album is an explosion of music. Emil's shows are never dull, never lacklustre and never half-hearted, but the one that he played on April 27th 2007 was something special. Live albums never convey the full effect of a gig, as anyone who has ever heard a recording of a concert they attended knows well, and so we can only imagine what it actually sounded like to the audience in Vienna. The rest of us will have to make do with this album: a second best, but a very fine second best.

The band was moving fast. Emil and drummer Laco Tropp had just flown back from America, where they had been gigging and recording with bassist Cleveland Eaton. According to Victor Verney's liner notes this was a journey that their luggage and Laco's cymbals failed to complete, their progress halting at Frankfurt Airport. In Vienna Laco and Emil joined up with regular bassist František Uhlíř, borrowed some cymbals, and went on the attack.

The strident opening of “Father's Blues” (F. Uhlíř) sets the tone for the whole record. There is an aggression in the piano playing that gives it percussive overtones even during the melodic phrases. Tropp trades thunderous exchanges with his travelling companion. Uhlíř plays with his customary refined woody twang throughout, breaking off only to unleash his bow upon the strings for an energetic sawing solo. They don't call him the “Paganini of the Bass” for nothing!

What stands out is how the three musicians are giving their all. There are no lazy moments, no lapses into ordinariness, no times of being merely average. And they can do all this without tripping over each other, without showing off to the detriment of the piece, and without even seeming to think about it.

“A Bird Flew Over” (E. Viklický) and “Highlands, Lowlands” (E. Viklický) are both pieces heavily influenced by Moravian folk tunes. The former starts off with the lilting bitter-sweetness that typifies that type of music but morphs into a rollicking piano-driven blues, a change hinted at in the opening bars but saved until later. Uhlíř plays another tuneful solo, this time eschewing the bow and getting stuck in with his fingers.

It is “Highlands, Lowlands” where the extra energy in this recording is located in greatest concentration. This piece will be familiar to everyone who has seen Emil's Trio live over the last few years. Its cascading depiction of the hills and the valleys is one of the most memorable moments of their shows. This incarnation still has the same melodies, but in jagged and rocky form. Initially it sounds like a pretty normal version, but the improvised section takes on a whole new dynamic as Viklický flings his elegant playing right to the ragged edge, calling back the theme as a reference point then ferociously cutting loose again. It is refined yet raw at the same time. Uhlíř's solo is a moment of rest by comparison, coming before the Trio hurtles the composition to resolution. This version of “Highlands, Lowlands” is possibly the most exciting piece of music recorded by a Czech jazz outfit in the last few years and is worth the price of the album in itself.

There is slower stuff on Live In Vienna too, including a beautifully expressive version of “Coral” (K. Jarrett) containing yet another great bass solo, and also the appropriately named “Longing” (E. Viklický). The latter contains delicate interplay between piano and legato bass while Tropp takes a back seat with his brushes.

“Wine, Oh Wine” (E. Viklický) speaks of one of the favourite pastimes of Moravia, and again the spirit of that part of the Czech Republic shines through strongly. It begins with sonorous chimes, in the same way that “Highlands Lowlands” does, but this time heads into a joyous romp via some teasing solo piano. There are comic bass slides from Uhlíř that always go down well with the crowd, while Tropp rides the metals and pushes from behind.

Laco Tropp's dynamic playing is worthy of special note. He was 68 when this album was recorded, and the events preceding the Vienna concert were hardly conducive to restful preparation. On “Wine, Oh Wine” he puts in a two minute drum solo, and not one of those gentle spacey ones either. He goes for the full works, assaulting the kit in a way that would be impressive for a man half his age.

Tropp is also working hard on “Buhaina” (R. Brown), the final track of the album and the final encore of the night. He grooves away tirelessly, the entire band going out with an air of triumph. This was a hot gig. Never mind being exhausting to play, this thing is exhausting to listen to, and that's without being 68 and having just endured an overnight transatlantic flight.

As well as the music this package also includes two other treats. Victor Verney's liner notes reveal a slice of Viklický's family history, and with it his enduring relationship with the city of Vienna. There is also the artwork, by Jiří Anderle, that makes one wish that CDs were sold with L.P.-sized covers.

Here at Prague Jazz we do not use a system of stars or marks out of ten, feeling that trying to crudely quantify something as complex as music is a pointless endeavor. However we do recommend, and we do fully recommend that you get Live In Vienna. Whether you are interested in Emil Viklický, Czech jazz, jazz with a national identity, or just piano jazz in general, this is one of the finest new recordings that you could purchase. Viklický has proven once again that he is a world-class pianist, composer and bandleader, as good as any and better than most. Their special gig has given us a special album.

If you would like to hear a free sample from the album as well as from other Emil Viklický albums then please visit his website.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

News: CD Presentation by Cyrille Oswald - The Wrong Present

We have just had this press release about saxophonist Cyrille Oswald. The video is well worth watching.

On March 25,26 and 27, Cyrille Oswald will be presenting his new CD for Animal Music at the Jazz Dock in Prague, with David Doruzka on guitar, Tomas Liska on bass and Dano Soltis on drums.

Part of the show will consist of one of Cyrille's new projects, the Beautyists, a group of musicians, poets and storytellers.

On Thursday 25th, the quartet will be extended by percussionist and metalsculptor Steve Hubback, bassist Rodrigo Reijers and storyteller Tom Zahn. On Friday, poet/singer Lucien Zell will join the group, and on Saturday, both Tom Zahn and Lucien Zell will be present. Together they tell spellbinding tales from places nearby and far away, and make musical imagery of original poetry. They create a boundless experience between various artforms, prepared and improvised. There, they integrate the worlds of word and sound.

You can watch an interview with Cyrille about the CD here:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gig Review: Zuzana Lapčíková Kvintet

Jazz Dock
19th March 2010

Singer and virtuoso cimbalom player Zuzana Lapčíková is a big name in Czech music. She tours internationally, and her concert tours take in theatres, churches and other prestigious venues. As befits a purveyor of Moravian music her performances are not centred around the capital city, and so the chance to see her playing at Prague's Jazz Dock (as part of their Ethnojazz Festival) was a rare opportunity to see her in action on the Prague club scene.

Gigs at Jazz Dock are always approached with a degree of trepidation. Although it is in many ways a great club it does seem to attract the sort of people who think that it is acceptable to talk loudly and inconsiderately during performances. That is the problem when you go out of your way to make a venue accessible: the wrong sort of people access it.

Lapčíková's quintet consisted of herself, Ondrej Krajňák on piano, Kamil Slezák on drums, and a couple of well known players on the Prague scene: Rostislav Fraš on saxophones and Josef Fečo on upright bass. The front of the stage was dominated by Lapčíková's cimbalom, behind which she sat hammering away, singing using a headset microphone, and manipulating the pedal with her foot balanced on a stiletto heel.

The sound of the cimbalom is synonymous with the folk music of Central and Eastern Europe, and its integration within a typical modern jazz ensemble gave the unified outfit a wide range of moods and textures with which to play. There were moments that were very much Moravian folk, concentrating on voice and intertwined cimbalom and piano. At other moments it was pure instrumental jazz, with Lapčíková either playing percussively or temporarily sitting out altogether. The best moments were when the two extremes met in the middle: good hard jazz infused with the bitter-sweet lyricism and spirit of the folk songs. These provide strong melodies that can be liberally expanded and extemporised upon by jazzers hungry for new sources of inspiration.

The format of the concert was unusual. They played two long sets with just one interval, and both sets were performed as a single medley of pieces with virtually no gaps separating them. This made for an intense music experience that offered little compromise to the casual listener, especially one that was not familiar with any of the material. Strong glorious themes rose out of the more ethereal soundscapes, we flicked between folk and jazz and back again, and the magic happened. It was one of those times when the audience focused, the music unfolded, and for a few minutes the whole was so much more than the sum of the parts.

The second set, although musically as strong, didn't hit those same heights. Lapčíková sat out for the first two songs as the remainder of the band had a brief straight jazz workout. It was good stuff, but without the star of the show it didn't instantly grab the audience's attention. Those who tend to talk did so, and that changed the mood. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle, no matter how many ugly looks and clenched fists are shown to the room, and the focus was lost. The casuals sitting at the back became disengaged, and they had voices that carried. During the louder sections they were drowned out, but the softer folky moments were placed against a backdrop of rudeness.

The band played well, and of particular note were Fraš and Fečo. The former did some wonderful things on the soprano sax, and was especially prominent in the full-blown folk/jazz fusion passages. Fečo is a sensitive acoustic player but is also good with an electric bass, and although he didn't use that instrument during the gig some of his solos were packed with electric-style groove and fun.

With no announcing of titles, and possessing a limited knowledge of Moravian folk, it is hard to put together a setlist. However there were a couple of pieces that I recognised, and it was like meeting an old friend in a room full of strangers. Interesting and beautiful strangers who I would want to see again, but strangers still. “Vrať se milý” was particularly beautiful, and would have been the perfect finale to the concert if the louts at the back had shut up to let the magic happen once again.

It was a privilege to finally see Zuzana Lapčíková in action and her concerts are recommended to anyone interested in music with an authentic Czech voice. The fusion of local folk songs with jazz is a winning combination, as other Czech artists have often shown, and it is fascinating to watch the cimbalom being mastered so thoroughly. Her gliding of the hammers across the exposed strings unleashes a full and satisfying sound, and she plays with an obvious passion for, and understanding of, the instrument. Together with her singing she puts in a performance of total commitment, possessing a massive stage presence despite her diminutive stature.

Her decision to present the music in such an uncompromised form is worthy of respect, as is eschewing chatter and communicating purely through the performance. It is as though she expects the audience to show the same commitment in their listening as she does in her playing, and we here at Prague Jazz believe that is a good and reasonable expectation. However perhaps Jazz Dock is not always the place to find an audience that will unanimously agree with this sentiment. That is a shame.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Articles About Emil Viklický

Here at Prague Jazz we do say a lot of good things about Emil. Just in case some of our readers out there would like a second opinion here are a couple of articles (in English) about our favourite pianist:

First of all, here is a summary of his career from All About Jazz: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=15576

Respected US writer Victor Verney has recently penned a piece about Emil's latest activities. You can read it on Victor's own website here: http://verney.us/?page_id=689

Happy reading!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

News: Emil Viklický Trio's New Live Album

Live in Vienna, the new live album from one of the true giants of Czech jazz, has been released!

We will of course be reviewing the album as soon as our copy arrives, but until then here is what Emil himself has to say about it:

"In the span of nine years my Trio issued 3 live recordings:

1/ Bratislava 2001 TRIO 01, recorded 2001, issued 2002 by ARTA
2/ Cookin´in Bonn, recorded 2004, issued 2005/6 by Dekkor Records, London
3/ Live in Vienna, recorded 2007, issued 2010, by Cube Métier

In Bratislava reviews said we were the best group of the festival. There is also a DVD issued [of the set]. Bonn was good as well, but I do feel that Vienna has the most raw energy. That is due to Laco Tropp's playing. Laco is terribly excellent on Live in Vienna.

He was 68 when [Live in Vienna was] recorded, but playing his "Philly Jo" style with incredible stamina and energy. Of course it is partly because of our short tour in Alabama. We had played a trio with Cleveland Eaton - bassist for Count Basie, Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock, Ramsay Lewis and founding member of Earth Wind and Fire!!! Cleve was so enthusiastic of Laco's groove that he offered him a position in his US band for a year. Laco's self confidence of course went up, and you can easily hear it on this CD."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Czech Jazz Society Album Of 2009 Poll

The results of the Czech Jazz Society's poll to find the best album of 2009 have been released. The jury was comprised of over sixty musicians, jazz club owners, record company people, managers, publicists, and other such people on the Czech scene.

A summary of the results in English can be found here. This page also links to the individual comments of each member of the jury in Czech. Just copy and paste them into Google Translator if you are interested. It is not perfect but it gets the main points across.

Monday, March 1, 2010

GigTips: March 2010

For the first time in over six weeks Prague is not covered by a layer of ice. The skies seem bluer, the air feels warmer, and slowly but surely the greenery will come back to life. Spring may not yet have sprung but it is certainly coiled in anticipation! Now it is possible to walk down the street without risking breaking a bone or three it is time to go to some gigs. These are our tips for March...

There are two special blues gigs at the Palác Akropolis this month. Prague's very own Chicago Blues guitarist, Rene Trossman, will be joined by acclaimed Chicago Blues singer Deitra Farr on 18/3. On 4/3 there will be a benefit concert for Steve White featuring such Prague Jazz favourites as Radim Hladík, Vladimír Mišík, and Luboš Andršt. For those of you not familiar with Steve White, he is a US-based guitarist and singer currently undergoing treatment for cancer. The purpose of the concert is to raise money towards his treatment, so as well as being a great night of music it will also be for a very good cause.

If you want to see Luboš Andršt in action with his own band then AghaRTA Jazz Centrum is the place to go. He will be there on 9/3 and 10/3 with his jazzier outfit, the Luboš Andršt Group. His keyboard player, Ondřej Kabrna, will also be there on 31/3 fronting his Powerplay Trio.

The newest club on the scene, Jazz Time, is not good at getting the details of their gigs out: the sooner they get their website working fully the better it will be for all of us. They do seem to be attracting some of the big names in Czech jazz though. According to pianist Emil Viklický's website he will be playing there on 9/3 and 19/3 with his Trio. We can't give you any guarantees about the quality of the club at this stage, but we can give you a guarantee about the quality of the music if Emil is involved.

At U Malého Glena this month you can see many of the rising stars of the local scene. Guitarist Libor Šmoldas will be playing material from his new album, In New York On Time, every Tuesday night in March. The Infinite Quintet will be there on 6/3 and guitarist Petr Zelenka's new “Project Z” will be there on 11/3.

As ever this is just a small selection of the gigs that will be played in March here in Prague. Do remember to book ahead if you want to be sure of a good table. And please tell the venue that you saw the gig listed here. If you have any feedback or comments about the gigs that you have seen please feel free to contact us at Prague Jazz with your thoughts.