Wednesday, December 31, 2008

GigTips: January 2009

And so we go on into a new year, and what can be the coldest month in the calendar. Dressing for jazz can be a bit of a challenge when the temperature never rises above freezing. Remember to wrap up warm for the journey but make sure you can take most of it off when you are in the club otherwise you will suffer: Prague’s jazz clubs are not known for their airy coolness!

On a similar practical note do watch out if you decide to take a taxi home because it is too cold to wait for a night-tram. Reputable taxis can be picked up at the “Fair Place” ranks or by calling AAA Taxis (233 113 311) who speak English and are usually quick and reliable.

So now you know how to dress and how to get back, you only have to decide who you want to see!

This month we are going to concentrate on artists who are regularly featured on this website. They represent some of the best music talent out there, and are perfect gigs for occasional and regular jazz fans alike.

We will start the year at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum, with the delightful folk-jazzer Pavla Milcová (4/1), the Luboš Andršt Group (13, 14/1), the Emil Viklický Trio (21/1) and the Robert Balzar Trio (29/1). All these gigs will be of the highest quality and come with our enthusiastic recommendation.

If you want to see more of one of Europe’s best jazz and blues guitarists, Luboš will also be playing with his Blues Band at the Charles Bridge Jazz Club (11, 18, 23, 30/1), another highly recommended experience.

At USP Jazz Lounge this month there is the chance to hear two of the best female vocalists on the Prague scene, with Veronika Diamant (13/1) and Miriam Bayle (11, 22, 23, 30/1), and thunderous pianist Karel Růžička will also be passing through with his Trio (15/1).

This is of course just a handful of what is on offer, so please follow the Music Clubs links to see what else is happening. Remember to book in advance in order to be sure of a place, and do tell the venue that you saw the gig listed here on Prague Jazz.

May your 2009 be as prosperous as it is musical!

Gig Review: Michal Prokop & Framus Five

Divadlo Archa
19th December 2008

Christmas in Prague means many things to many people. To some it means the smell of mulled wine and roasting chestnuts drifting over from bustling market stalls. To others it means choosing an oversized tree and hauling it home on the tram. To many it means trying not to fall into the tanks of live carp when drunk. To us at Prague Jazz it means all of these and more, and in the more we must include Michal Prokop’s Christmas gigs. A full length concert interwoven with special guests is what we’ve come to expect, and unlike many under-tree promises that turn out to be socks or hankies, it is never a disappointment.

Before the emails of complaint come flying in, we know that strictly (or even loosely) speaking Prokop isn’t a jazzer. But within his blend of rock, blues, soul and folk there are some jazzy moments. In his band are the virtuoso violinist Jan Hrubý and a guitarist called Luboš Andršt who can play a bit: real music played by real musicians. Their intermittent work together over the years has an iconic place in Czech popular music, and their current performances are joyous and exuberant affairs. With his other lives in politics and television Prokop could easily have turned into a caricature, a one-man “celebrity” variety show. Instead, when he takes to the stage, he is still 100% musician.

This concert not only celebrated Christmas but also the sixtieth birthday in 2008 of both Hrubý and Andršt. It was therefore fitting that they opened the show, together with Prokop who turned sixty two years ago, as their “unplugged” acoustic trio. Normally only seen during short sets at festivals, it was an unexpected treat to hear their staples “Rain” (J. Feliciano) and “Miss July” (P. Skoumal, P. Šrut).

There is usually some young talent showcased during these concerts, and this year it was the turn of Jana Šteflíčková. A folky songstress with a strong voice, she impressed the audience with her acoustic guitar technique, providing her own percussion with some hefty string-slapping. She is definitely worth watching out for in the future.

Next up were Kukulín, Celtic folk-rockers led by none other than Jan Hrubý, who hardly left the stage all evening in what was to be a marathon performance. He is never the most boring person to watch onstage, enthusiastically transferring his thoughts and feelings to the strained strings like Paganini on lager. As bandleader he was even more animated than ever, on his feet and jigging away through some stunning solos and euphoric ensemble playing. It was hard to believe that he, as with Prokop and Andršt, could possibly be sixty.

More defiance of the years came next, with the emergence of two more legends of Czech music, singer-songwriter Vladimír Mišík and veteran Blue Effect guitarist Radim Hladík. Another two gentlemen who by standard convention should be telling us to keep the noise down rather than making the noise themselves, they teamed up with Hrubý for a rousing blast of “Šmajdák a ploužáky” (V. Mišík, V. Merta) before being joined onstage by Prokop and Andršt. Collectively the five musicians have over two hundred years of playing experience, which is why they sound so damn good. An extended blues number with solos all round ended the first half of the concert, with the crowd enthralled by the sight and sound of the some country’s best known musicians jamming together.

After an interval to rid the stage of all extraneous gear it was time for Prokop to take the stage with his electric band for the main part of the concert, although few would argue that we’d had our money’s worth already. Everyone was thoroughly warmed up so classics like “Kolej Yesterday” (P. Skoumal, P. Šrut) and the rousing anthem “Blues o spolykaných slovech” (M. Prokop, J. Žáček) went down a storm. As is now usual a bulk of the set came from the Poprvé naposledy album (2006). Widely seen as Prokop’s renaissance and return to the musical first division after his time in politics, the newer tracks from this record sit easily with the older material. “Virtuální realita” (L. Andršt, P. Šrut), a powerful straight-ahead rocker came off especially well, as did the violin-driven “Zloději času” (P. Skoumal, P. Šrut).

Rhythm was provided by Wimpy Tichota on bass and Pavel Razím on drums, a pairing who work together often and keep things both innovative and tight. It would have been nice to see these two younger statesmen of the Prague jazz scene given some room to solo, but that honour seemed to be reserved for those who were sixty or over. They were all joined for one song, “Hotel u přístavu (L. Andršt, P. Šrut)”, by young jazz singer Markéta Foukalová. Duetting with Prokop like on the album original, they exchanged lines while Luboš ran honey-sweet jazz guitar phrases behind them.

The finale was an explosive sprawl through the talents of great instrumentalists. It had been a long and fun night, and it is fair to say that not everyone concerned was entirely sober, and it was Christmas and time to rock. Andršt led the way with a delicious slide solo at the end of Loučení (P. Skoumal, P. Šrut), then we had the two usual blues numbers, “Boom Boom” (J. L. Hooker) and Hoochie Coochie Man” (W. Dixon). Both contained furious duels between guitar and violin, underneath which pulsated a churning blues groove pumped out by Tichota and Razím. Prokop’s attempts to end the instrumental section and finish his lyrics were amusingly frustrated by the soloists who for a long time couldn’t quite bring themselves to quit. The encore of “Noc je můj den” (L. Andršt, M. Bláha), was even more wonderfully chaotic with the guest appearance of Radim Hladík. If two soloists can cause trouble for a bandleader trying to control things then three of them are a nightmare. The rolling melody turned into a battle for the best lick of the night that only ended when the house lights were put on and everyone else was leaving the stage. The winner of this contest was undoubtedly…

Well, the winner was us really, the audience treated to the sight and sound of such luminaries playing together and playing with a free hand. It was a display of creativity rather than a recital of the script and, like the evening as a whole, a reminder that prolonged success in the industry need not kill off the spontaneity, creativity and excitement of making music. Technical skill, charismatic stagecraft, historic collaborations and emotional playing all combined to make a very special Christmas present for all who were there

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Here at Prague Jazz we wish all our readers, both regular and occasional, a very Merry Christmas.


Over the past year the site has grown in size and popularity, thanks in no small part to artists, club owners, and other associated people on the Prague music scene. Your support, information, tickets and albums have been much appreciated.


This site was started because of my conviction that the music scene in this city is truly special and deserves as much recognition and exposure as possible. The last year of releases and gigs has made me even more resolute in this belief, and hopefully 2009 will be a good year for both jazz in Prague and Prague Jazz.


We will be starting off the new year with reviews of Michal Prokop’s very special Christmas concert, Blues Grooves by the Luboš Andršt Blues Band, and also classic albums by Emil Viklický and Pavla Milcová. There will be news of exciting concerts and releases when we get it, our monthly GigTips, and more exclusive photos and video clips. Please join us in 2009 for another great year of music.


Veselé Vánoce a šťastný nový rok.


Tony Emmerson

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Gig Review: Luboš Andršt Blues Band

Charles Bridge Jazz Club
6th December 2008

It is always interesting to see things for the first time. This time there were two firsts for the price of one. It was Prague Jazz’s first visit to the new Charles Bridge Jazz Club, and also our first look at the current incarnation of the ever-evolving Luboš Andršt Blues Band.

The Charles Bridge Jazz Club is a pleasing addition to the local scene. It is a bit of a squeeze for everyone to fit around the tables, but the close packing gives it the sort of front parlour intimacy that a good jazz venue should have. There is also a decently sized bar area, so those who wish to ignorantly talk over great music can do so without irritating everyone else. The atmosphere is friendly and the prices are reasonable for its location, almost literally in the shadow of Prague’s most famous landmark (excluding Darling Cabaret). Unlike some places in this city it feels like a real music venue rather than a tourist trap, and that is the most important thing for those of us who are real music enthusiasts rather than gormless travellers.

As well as a good venue a good evening requires a good band, and the Luboš Andršt Blues Band certainly falls into this category. We here at Prague Jazz are proud fans of the mighty Luboš and the musicians he usually plays with. With him for this concert were perennially funky electric bassist Wimpy Tichota, drum powerhouse Pavel Razím, and Jan Holeček on keys and vocals.

What the band delivered was three sets of hard-hitting electric blues, ranging from gospel spirituals to a rocking blast of “Cross Road Blues” (R. Johnson). Their arrangement was very close to the Cream interpretation that has become known as the definitive version to many people. Luboš’s improvised solo was dazzling, while Holeček wailed the lyrics with passion. His voice is very similar to a young Robert Plant, and he could no doubt make a good living in a Led Zeppelin tribute band if he was so inclined.

The rhythm section spent the night having a fun old time in the corner. Tichota and Razím have played together for many years, developing an instinctive communication that allows them to manoeuvre the music through a maze of twists and turns without ever breaking stride. Pavel forsook the “big kit” school of drumming, using only a snare with brushes, a kick drum, and a hi-hat. From this three piece collection he produced a surprisingly wide palette of sounds and some furious solos, sending a brush flying in his frenzy. Wimpy also unleashed some fine slapping solos from his Fender Jazz bass. Their constant interplay and asides showed a band that was really enjoying performing, and this came across strongly all night.

Andršt’s guitar work was the undoubted highlight of the concert. Whenever the band paused to make room for one of his solos there was a noticeable air of anticipation. We all knew that something great was about to be set free and he never disappointed. With both great technical skill and great feeling he guided his red Strat through the curves and contours of his imagination. Sometimes flashy, sometimes simple, but always in the best possible taste, his playing held the audience spellbound. During “Cross Road Blues” there was nobody in the room that missed Clapton, and the finale of “Hey Joe” (B. Roberts) was electrifying, sending shivers down spines and eliciting hearty cheers.

There are a lot of good nights out for the serious music fan in Prague, but the regular appearances of the Luboš Andršt Blues Band at the Charles Bridge Jazz Club must currently rank amongst the best. They don’t seem to make real guitar gods anymore, the old-school axe-men who let the strings do the talking. So make sure you go and see Luboš for he is one of the last of the old guard, a bluebood guitarist who can still make the magic happen.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rifftides

In the Prague Jazz inbox last month was an email from writer and journalist Doug Ramsey. An internationally respected voice on jazz, he is a fellow enthusiast of the Czech music that we at Prague Jazz HQ love so much. Doug’s blog, Rifftides, is a must-read for those who are interested in all things jazz. The URL is http://www.artsjournal.com/rifftides/ and it can also be reached through our links below.

GigTips: December 2008

The final month of the year is here, and with it the Christmas lights, Christmas markets, Christmas hot wine, and Christmas excuses to go to a jazz club. If you’re over in Prague for the season then you know what you should do. Similarly, if you have guests staying over, they’d love a dose of Czech musical heritage.

If all this news of new Emil Viklický albums has got you wanting to see the man himself then get down to AghaRTA Jazz Centrum where he will be playing with his Trio (14/12). If on the other hand you fancy a bit of guitar genius then the Luboš Andršt Group are also gracing the AJC stage (3/12).

If you’d like to see Luboš with his Blues Band then you can catch them at the new Charles Bridge Jazz Club (5, 6, 13, 14, 20, 21, 30, 31 /12) – a feast of dates including the chance to see in 2009 with a Czech music legend.

Another residency worth catching is by exciting Hammond organist Ondřej Pivec at USP Jazz Lounge, playing with his Organic Quartet (22, 28, 29 /12), with singer Betty Lee (24, 26, 27 /12) and the Petr Kalfus Trio (23, 25/12). Also at USP this month are the Robert Balzar Trio (10/12) and the ever-innovative pianist Beata Hlavenková (9/12).

They’re a hard working lot, our Prague Jazzers, putting in Christmas and New Year shows when most people are off work, off duty, and off their faces. So if you do go and see one of these festive gigs then spare a thought for the guys (and dolls) on stage. Buy their albums as Christmas presents for your friends. Put down your peanuts and listen during the quiet bits. Shield and sheath your flashguns. Or just offer to buy them a drink.

Remember to check with the venues to confirm that there have been no changes, and book ahead to be sure of a table. And do remember to tell them that you saw the gig listed here.

News: Viklický Album Updates

Label news from Emil:

The collection of early work will be released on the Vampisoul label, http://www.vampisoul.com/

The trio collaboration with Mraz and Nash will be released on on Venus Records, http://www.venusrecord.com/. If they carry on their recent trend in album covers we here at Prague Jazz are excited about the whole package.

Thanks again to Emil for keeping us informed. What we have just realised is that it was his 60th birthday in November, so a belated Happy Birthday to the man himself.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

News: New Emil Viklický Recordings and Photographs


There is exciting news from Emil Viklický, with something old and something new on the way.

First of all, some of his material from the deep and dark 1970s is due to be made available on a CD collection, including collaborative work with guitarist Luboš Andršt. Regular readers of Prague Jazz will appreciate that this prospect causes no little excitement at our HQ.


If that wasn’t enough, there is also a really new new album on the way, with the working title of Moravian Rhapsody – Janáček of Jazz, and recorded in NYC with bassist George Mraz and drummer Lewis Nash. Having already heard a clip from the album I can say with assurance that it is worth looking forward to. More details on release dates and labels when we have it, with reviews to follow when we can.


Emil has also been busy with live performances with his Trio in Prague, and also promoting the Moravian Gems album released last year in collaboration with Mraz, Laco Tropp (drums), and Iva Bittová (vocals, violin). They played a concert together in a museum in Basel, Switzerland on November 16th, and thanks to Emil we have some photos to of this unique occasion for you to enjoy.











Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gig Review: Karel Růžička Trio

AghaRTA Jazz Centrum
15th November 2008


Karel Růžička is one of the heavyweight figures of Czech jazz. Composer, conductor, teacher, former president of the Czech Jazz Society and also, of course, bandleader and pianist, his is a formidable record. His Trio performances are events to be savoured but maybe not always for the faint of heart. They offer up no jazz-lite to give succour to the sort of people who think that Richard Clayderman albums are very exciting. They play hardcore, hardball, and hard hitting modern jazz with their own unique sound.

Central to that sound is Růžička’s piano. His technique is aggressive, and extensive use of his left hand gives it more bottom end than you would normally hear. He is quick and dextrous but at the same time there is a simmering violence that seizes the music into existence, carving and shaping soundscapes into reality like a sonic sculptor. His understanding of the shape and form and colour of music, coupled with his ability to concoct soaring improvisations of dizzying perfection, is a recipe for cool thrills.

Bass duties were assumed as usual by Josef Fečo, who pounded his way up and down the big strings with flair and taste. Drum duties were handled by Martin Šulc who I had not seen with the Trio before and was introduced as a guest player. He contributed an excellent percussive performance, and the virtual telepathy between the three men kept things exciting and fresh.

The opening piano solo, dark and mellow, raised the curtain and led into a bout of the sort of sophisticated ensemble playing that they do so well. Each voice was clear and distinct and had something to say, but like a good conversation they never talked over each other or drowned each other out.

On the previous occasions that I have seen this Trio it was Růžička’s own compositions that seemed to dominate the evening, but this time it was his interpretations of other material that stole the show. A good interpretation is always pleasing to the heart and mind: a familiar phrase placed in a new context, with enough remaining to make the piece recognisable but enough invention to make it a unique composition in its own right. Their rendition of “All Blues” (M. Davis) was a perfect example. The swirling riff of the original was kept intact but alongside it the Trio gave their creativity full reign. The result was a textured and contoured journey, sometimes so gentle that Růžička could add percussion to the sensitive drum solo by tapping his unamplified water glass, and sometimes emphatic and triumphant.

“On Green Dolphin Street” (B. Kaper) was also given a good run though with some dazzling piano runs and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (G. Gershwin / I. Gershwin) brought smiles from all around. A prime example of taking a great theme and running with it, it was a sad disappointment that this freewheeling and joyful blast of improvisation ever had to end.

Amid the more robust material there was also outstanding beauty on show. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” (G. de Paul) and “My Funny Valentine” (R. Rodgers) were moving and emotional dips into the Great American Songbook, while “Largo” from Dvořák’s “New World Symphony” brought with it an epic stillness and peace.

A final rattle through of “Oleo” (S. Rollins) dispatched the audience out into the cold night. In some ways it would have been nice to see Růžička’s own material given more prominence, if only to make sure that the passing trade knew that they had seen a great writer as well as great interpreter, but it was still a fine evening of demanding yet listenable jazz. If you haven’t seen them yet, and you like your jazz trios uncompromised and full on, then put them in your diary today.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

News: Venues

There are some recent changes to report on the Prague Jazz Club scene. First of all there is a new venue in town: Live At The Jet Set. A bar and restaurant that sometimes hosts live music, they are featuring international as well as local talent. Their website can be found here.

There also seems to have been a change at the tourist trap that was Ungelt. Their website has kept the same address but it now seems to be the Charles Bridge Jazz Club. Hopefully this new incarnation will have reasonable admission prices! The website can be found here.

Prague Jazz has yet to drop by these venues but will do so soon. If you visit them and have any opinions please do email us or leave a comment on our site.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Feature: Žižkov Meets Jazz

The underground warren of Palác Akropolis once again played host to the annual Žižkov Meets Jazz music festival, and Prague Jazz was there for the opening evening. Over two nights it was possible to see some big names in Czech jazz, and also younger up-and-coming outfits, for a bargain price. Tickets bought in advance were only 120CZK, and even in this post-credit-crunch world that is not a hefty cost. As an added sweetener there were selections of whiskeys and cigars available for free at the beginning of the night, and it was easily possible to smoke and drink yourself into a net profit on the evening. Sadly not many of the cigars were fired up instantly, although there was still a pleasing affluent fug around some of the tables.


The first of the two main acts was Veronika Diamant with her new Sofajazz project. The name may suggest “lounge music” as found in the world’s worst best hotels but do not be deceived. Darker and more powerful than the outfit she had with her in concert last year it benefited immensely from the addition of piano to the previous guitar/bass/drums arrangement. Song-led, but with interesting instrumental passages, they put together a confident set. Some of her older standards made it through, such as the Czech version of “Jersey Girl” (Tom Waits) and “It Ain't Necessarily So” (Gershwin / Gershwin), but there was also a lot of new material. Diamant’s voice sounded stronger and more expressive than ever and hopefully there is a lot more to come from her and Sofajazz.




During the break between main sets the young Latin-influenced outfit Zeurítia played in the adjoining small hall, leaving just enough time for people to return to their seats for the second main act, Polish-Cuban vocalist Yvonne Sánchez. Playing with a stripped down acoustic band, with just percussion and acoustic guitar, she gave a sensitive yet gutsy performance that delighted the sold-out Akropolis. Including pieces from her recent My Garden album, she sang in both Czech and English with equal beauty. Pedro Tagliani did a good job on guitar, even generating a searing “electric” solo from his acoustic axe using an effects box, much to the confusion of those who do not understand such oral alchemy.




Zeurítia played a final brief set in the small hall to end the night. It was good that all the tickets for this event were sold. Hopefully this will ensure that the annual Žižkov Meets Jazz festival not only continues, but also continues attracts the sort of sponsors who merrily will dole out Scotch and stogies to happy jazz fans.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

GigTips: November 2008

Winter is with us here in Prague. Early nights, crisp cold mornings, and lots of hot wine to keep the icy weather out of our hearts. Nothing helps keep the chill away while waiting for a tram better than a plastic cup of svařák! And of course the music carries on...

The AghaRTA Jazz Festival brings us interesting offerings as ever: Polish singer Anna Maria Jopek (3/11) and legendary guitarist John Scofield (25/11) are both dropping by with gigs at the Lucerna Music Bar. Tickets and details can be found at http://www.agharta.cz/index.php?p=program&site=agharta_apjf

Further international talent can be seen at U Malého Glena with excellent American pianist John Serry (28/11) - Hopefully he will play some pieces from his majestic Enchantress album.

The Luboš Andršt Group make two appearances at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum this month (5/11 and 20/11) - be sure to pick up a copy of their new recording, Moment in Time, when you are there.

Our final tip for November is the Robert Balzar Trio at USP Jazz Lounge (5/11). They are really on top form at the moment, producing concerts that are musically satisfying, outstandingly beautiful, and a lots of fun too.

Of course there are many, many more concerts on this month, as every month, so please take a look at the Music Clubs links below for a fuller picture. Remember to book ahead to be sure of a good table, and do tell the venue that you saw the gig listed here. Happy listening!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

CD Review: Luboš Andršt Group



Moment in Time

ARTA F10172, 2008


Things are rough at the moment. The world is plunging into an economic crisis. Across the globe war and famine are taking their toll and showing no sign of doing anything other than harvesting yet more innocent lives. There’s global warming and it rains too much. Gangs of youths roam and terrorise the streets of the Western world with knives and ill-fitting hooded sweatshirts. You can’t fly to America without a billion pieces of biometric data and having to take off your pants while passing through security. You can’t drive anywhere because a tank of petrol costs more than your car. The future is bad. But I really don’t care about all of this because the new Luboš Andršt Group album is out and it is just fantastic. So forget the troubles of the world and enjoy…


First of all it sounds superb. The quality is crisp and clean, but not too clean. This is music by men, not music by numbers. Everything is heard with clarity, and when played through a good quality stereo or a decent pair of headphones it should satisfy even then whiniest audiophile. For this fact it is worth a tip of the hat to producer (and drummer) Michal Hejna, mixer Peter Binder, and all others involved in committing the music to disc. Quite how the local boys manage to achieve this quality while many prestigious labels peddle records with shockingly foul production is one of life’s sweet mysteries.


And then there are the tunes. This is an instrumental album recorded in the traditional way, with the material road-tested, honed, tinkered, and knocked into shape during live performances. As a result it sounds accomplished and confident, as it should do. They know this material works and works well. Aficionados of the Luboš Andršt Group will be happy to hear studio versions of their live favourites. Random tourists in the jazz clubs of Prague who are lucky enough to see the group play will have an instant souvenir to take home. It is genuinely reflective of the sound and the feel of the band as currently constituted – the nuances and details have survived intact.


Things get underway fittingly with “Underway”: tinkles of percussion and a slide on the bass as the band revs up, and then into a fast-paced guitar-driven fusion of jazz and rock. This opening track sets the tone for the album as a whole: catchy guitar motifs that seamlessly blend into searing improvisations, thick and funky bass from Wimpy Tichota, and spacey, jazzy keyboard solos from Ondřej Kabrna that extend into exciting extrapolations.


Michal Hejna’s drumming is joined by the percussion of Imran Musa Zangi, and this is put to good use on the Cuban flavoured “La Bodeguita Del Medio”. Appearing previously on Andršt’s acoustically orientated Imprints album (1992), it has been brought vividly to life during gigs by this electrically powered incarnation of his band. Now this longer and more spectacular version of the tune has been captured on record and, although not as frantic as the live performances can sometimes be, it still pushes and pulses like some sort of wild beast. Kabrna’s piano arrangement builds and builds in a classic example of tension and release, finally letting go with flair and Latin abandon, while Luboš contributes silky smooth liquid guitar runs. Emphasising the “live in the studio” feel of the album, Hejna throws in a pleasing drum solo at the end.


“Moment in Time” features the talented and charismatic Michal Žáček on soprano saxophone in beautiful interplay with soft jazz guitar, subtle bass, and persistent percussion. Joyful and celebratory, with fine soloing woven into ensemble playing and with a hint of romance too, “Moment in Time” is a gorgeous and complex piece of music with its own distinctive voice.


“Child’s Play” introduces a trio of shorter tracks (under six minutes!), returning to a harder-edged electric guitar sound. Again a pretty motif is used as the basis for heartfelt improvisation. Unlike some guitarists Andršt does not suffer from a phobia of silence, and as such his solos are elegantly phrased with pauses and room to breath: clear and purposeful strokes on the canvas rather than a panicky blot.


“Binky’s Beam” (John McLaughlin) is the only track on the album not composed by Andršt himself, but as a staple of the Group’s current live set it is again good to have it on the record. Angular sequences spiral slowly upwards, seemingly without end, before cascading down like a waterfall. The theme is picked up by Kabrna, before a satisfyingly dark and churning blues groove kicks in.


Downtown Street” is a bouncy little number, sprayed liberally with splintering bluesy guitar and a jazzy keyboard solo. Bassist Tichota steps out of the shadows for an elastic solo of the kind that always gets a big round of applause from a watching audience. The upbeat skip of “Downtown Street” is in stark contrast to “Series of Goodbyes”. Appearing regularly in their live set, this is an epic elegy of stately grandeur. The curve of every guitar note is as perfect as a vintage Hollywood starlet’s smile. Background chords wash back and forth like the ebb and flow of the tide. A piano solo rises up like the sun at dawn. The last five minutes are all guitar: a genre-spanning solo that steers a steady course away from pointless excess and superannuated posturing and goes straight to the heart. It is a ten minute long song that seems to slip by in an instant; an interesting journey along a worthwhile road.


The final track on the album is a rerecording of “Paprsek ranního slunce” (A Ray of Morning Sunlight), from the Energit album (1975). An unashamed slab of Proggy fusion, it features the last of the album’s special guests: violin virtuoso and beer enthusiast Jan Hrubý. Guitar and violin duel and duet in a joyful folky dance, before the crashing middle section drives forward with symphonic pomp, heavy chords, and a rocking electric solo.


There are some who will sniff: purists mainly, who wish to protect the bloodline of their chosen genre. Fusion music? More like confusion… I can’t call this album a pure jazz album because it contains too much rock. Similarly for a blues album it contains too much jazz and for a rock album it contains too much intelligence. What it does is take a blend of all three, and more, and present it as original and inventive music. It is music that satisfies the head and the heart. It draws on traditional sounds but is a contemporary statement. It is an album that exudes creativity but does not turn its back on the importance of strong melody and structure.


It is Moment in Time, the new album by the Luboš Andršt Group, and it is damn good. Play it often. Play it loud.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New Andršt Website

Luboš now has an official site -http://www.lubosandrst.cz/

There is still material being added to it but it does already have some detailed information about his different bands and past recordings.

A review of the his new Moment in Time album will be on Prague Jazz in a couple of days, but as a sneak preview, it is a very, very, very, very good record indeed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

News: Žižkov Meets Jazz

Once again winter brings, along with hot wine and cold mornings, the Žižkov Meets Jazz festival. This year it features acts including rising star guitarist David Dorůžka with his Trio, the smooth samba grooves of Yvonne Sanchez, and Nika Diamant (now seemingly known as Veronika) with her SofaJazz project.

ŽMJ will take place on the 7th and 8th of November in the underground maze that is Palác Akropolis. If you want to grab some food before the music we at Prague Jazz heartily recommend the pub diagonally opposite the Akropolis - as well as Czech favourites they do the best steak in this city.

More details at: http://www.palacakropolis.cz/program/2008-11-07

Monday, October 20, 2008

Gig Review: Luboš Andršt’s 60th Birthday Concert

Lucerna Music Bar
14th October 2008

It was a decision I hoped that I would not have to make: whether to leave a Slavia hockey match a few minutes early or risk being late for Luboš Andršt’s 60th birthday gig and album launch. With one eye on the clock and one eye on the ice I constantly willed the officials to hurry up and get play moving again. The breaks lasted an eternity, the delays were measured in geological time, and those seconds never stopped ticking away. Finally, with the match against Pardubice balanced at 2:2, and with one minute to go and extra time a certainty, I cut my losses and ran for the Metro. In doing so I missed the 60th minute goal that handed Slavia a 3:2 victory. It was the first, and probably last, home goal that I will miss this season. And yet I am not bitter or angry. That tells you how good this gig was.

It was not so much a concert as a public celebration of the man’s work. The set-list featured music from different incarnations of Andršt genius. Sitting in with his usual Group musicians were some of the biggest names in Czechoslovak jazz. The audience, unlike the usual mix that you find in Prague’s jazz clubs, had come solely to listen to Luboš and were quietly attentive and noisily appreciative in the appropriate places. The Lucerna Music Bar, bigger than AghaRTA Jazz Centrum, allowed for louder and wider soundscapes: audio CinemaScope for the discerning listener. They also have pretty coloured lights and unusually good (and cheap) Pilsner Urquell.

The band began with material from their new Moment in Time album, including the re-recorded live favourite “La Bodeguita Del Medio”, sounding loose and relaxed. Michal Hejna’s enthusiastic drumming was augmented by guest percussionist Pavel Plánka, while Wimpy Tichota’s bass supplied well-amplified and satisfying funk and Ondřej Kabrna let rip with usual gusto on keys. “Series of Goodbyes”, honed live before it was recently committed to record, ended with a heavyweight guitar solo that emphatically bridged the divide between jazz, blues, and rock.

The core of the band was soon joined by charismatic saxophonist Michal Žáček, playing as usual his double-miked and effect-boxed tenor sax. The duelled solos between guitar and saxophone were especially effective on the beautiful original “Moment in Time” where Žáček demonstrated some fine whole-body playing. With the addition of Emil Viklický on piano (freeing Kabrna to add some effective synthesiser work), and Jan Hrubý on violin, the instrumental supergroup was complete. Familiarity forged over the years, and intuitive improvisation skills, meant that this new ensemble played with the conviction and surefootedness of a regular outfit, only with more smiles.

Fittingly, for such a celebratory concert, the clock was rolled back with “Paprsek ranního slunce” (“A Ray of Morning Sunlight”). Originally from the Energit LP (1975), it featured mesmerising interplay between guitar and violin, and a thumping Prog Rock slab of fusion in the middle.

The tradition of pouring champagne on a copy of the new album was observed, and there was a quick speech from the man himself, before the final guest of the night: vocalist Peter Lipa. Slovak jazz legend Lipa and Andršt worked together in the 1980s, spreading their own brand of blues, funk and jazz through two records and many live performances. “Let the Good Times Roll”, a blues standard and a sentiment that summed up the two hours of music that preceded it, was a call to party in an era when it sometimes feels like the party is over.

By combining his 60th birthday concert with the launch of his new album, Luboš Andršt looked to the past and the future at the same time. The new material shows that his writing and playing remain undimmed by the years. The old forms a repertoire that most young musicians can never even aspire to matching. His ability to not only play, but write and arrange, marks him out as one of the best guitarists in Central Europe. And when he plays it is done with feeling and depth, rather than just callow empty chops and “look at me everyone” posturing. All this and more, plus the rare sight of him jamming with the likes of Emil Viklický, made it truly a night to savour.

I’m sure that goal wasn’t a good one anyway…

Feature: Pictures from Luboš Andršt’s 60th Birthday Concert

Lucerna Music Bar
14th October 2008


Emil Viklický sits in:
Jan Hrubý on violin, Wimpy on bass:
video
Happy Birthday!Peter Lipa on vocals:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gig Review: Eva Svobodová & Co.

Reduta Jazz Club

5th October 2008


Reduta is one of the most famous jazz venues in Europe. It is the place where Bill Clinton and Václav Havel played together in 1994, and the seats they took on the hard fixed benches are marked with metal badges for posterity. Pictures of the great leaders are displayed prominently amongst the photographs of jazz legends. A single event placed this joint in a consciousness larger than that of the local music fans. It is a place that everyone interested in the history of Czech jazz should visit once.


Once is about right. After that it is harder to put aside the ridiculous price of the drinks and the cloakroom attendants with troglodyte manners. If you don’t have the exact change you are stared at like you just pissed in someone’s tea. You can feel the resentment as the coins are counted out slowly and deliberately, with the severity of a dowry. Bank clerks at gunpoint have handed over the goods with more of a smile. I only go to this place if there is someone I really, really want to see. As such I returned to the historic and atmospheric but totally infuriating Reduta to see the fantastic Eva Svobodová singing with her band.


Eva’s Fine and Mellow (1995) album was featured recently on Prague Jazz: an excellent piece of work in which her voice, an intoxicating mixture of smoke and velvet, perfectly compliments the playing of Luboš Andršt’s Acoustic Set. Her current live outfit, although very different in sound, is no less suited to the songs she delivers so well. The voice is just the same however, capable of capturing both joy and sadness with equal charm.


The current band is fronted not by a guitarist but by jazz trombonist (yes, they do exist) Přemek Tomšíček. Handling the shiny beast with remarkable speed and accuracy, his blistering runs demonstrated extraordinary control of both arm and mouth. On piano Kryštof Marek was taking time away from composing, conducting and band-leading in theatres to offer his tasteful contributions. The rhythm section of František Raba (bass) and František Hönig (drums) provided experience, intelligence and interesting variations. They sounded rounded and polished, usually controlled, and certainly interesting. Substituting lead guitar for lead trombone is not a conventional move, but in this case it worked.


Each of the three sets began with a brief instrumental section before Eva stepped to the microphone. Giving the band time to stretch out a bit more than is usually possible when there is the serious business of songs to be sung, it gave a chance for them to warm up while the audience could settle down, get back from the bar, bemoan the prices, and then shut up.


Some songs from Fine and Mellow were included this evening, including “Everyday (I Have The Blues)” (P. Chatman) and “I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues” (D. Ellington). “Masquerade” (P. F. Webster) was given a splendid treatment, with an extensive instrumental workout and perfect delivery of the bittersweet lyrics. It is ordinarily hard to believe that this song is three quarters of a century old, and impossible to comprehend when it sounds so fresh, alive, and contemporary.


Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child” was recounted with the powerful yearning that the lyrics deserve, while "Agua de Beber" (A. Jobim) was all slick Latin loveliness. This is an ensemble that is as adaptable as it is convincing, being able to snap between joyful swing, desolate ballads, and cathartic blues. A brief interlude as an elastic vocals/bass/drums trio showcased Raba’s dexterity on the big strings; a teasing and light-hearted venture that delighted the Sunday evening punters.


The band, as good as they were and as good as they are in their own right, are the backdrop for Svobodová’s singing. Excellent English pronunciation (better than most Czech singers who sing in English) with just a hint of local accent create a seductive style as timeless as the songs themselves. Songs that may be from a different era and a different part of the word, but human emotions are just the same as they ever were and ever will be. By capturing that emotion, and that realness of feeling the immediacy remains across the decades and the spirit of the music blossoms still. Rare blossoms in autumnal Prague, amid the soft falling leaves and heavy falling nights.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

GigTips: October 2008

October is here and it is going to get cold soon: time to pull out the winter clothes and try to remember where you put the electric blanket! While it may mean the end of the outdoor concert season we have had some great ones this year, and the snug warmth of underground jazz clubs is a good place to be when darkness falls. It is also a lull in the tourist season, and as such a time for Prague's resident jazz fans to reclaim the clubs as their own. While of course the tourist throngs do bring in genuine enthusiasts and lots of revenue, they also bring in yammering fools who only stop talking in order to fire a flashgun into the face of the singer. Prague is one of the few cities in the world with a thriving indigenous jazz scene, and the best way that local music fans can support this is by going to lots of gigs, buying lots of records, and showing their love by listening intently and applauding appreciatively.

There are some very special gigs this month, with Jazz v Rudolfinu (8/10) and Chick Willis appearing with the Rene Trossman Band at USP Jazz Lounge (16/10). Further details of both gigs can be found in recent postings on Prague Jazz. Meanwhile at the Lucerna Music Bar, under the aegis of the AghaRTA autumn jazz festival, master guitarist Luboš Andršt celebrates both turning 60 earlier this year and releasing his new Moment In Time album with a guest-studded concert (14/10).

We at Prague Jazz seldom recommend going to Reduta. It may have been the home of the Clinton/Havel jam (with Robert Balzar on bass), but 300CZK is a bit steep as an entry cost and 80CZK for a beer is just damn silly. However, occasionally, there is someone performing there for whom it is worth enduring the tourist treatment, and this certainly includes Eva Svobodová (5/10). Forget the wallet-hoovering and just enjoy her alluring smokey velvet voice. It is also worth checking out the record shop that does have a very good collection of local music, including Eva's superb Fine and Mellow.

Two other female vocalists to see this month are Miriam Bayle (29/10) at USP Jazz Lounge, and folk/jazz queen Pavla Milcov
á (1/10) at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum.

Please remember to book ahead if you want to be sure of getting a seat. And please do tell the venue that you saw the gig recommended here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

News of the Blues

Hot news from Prague's resident Chicago singer and guitarist, Rene Trossman.

Blues star Chick Willis (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.) will be playing with Rene's band in Prague for one night only. The gig will be on October 16, 2008 at the USP Jazz Lounge. A night not to be missed by all fans of real blues!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

CD Review: Eva Svobodová feat. Luboš Andršt Acoustic Set


Fine and Mellow

Multisonic 31 0334-2, 1995


There are lots of very good albums in the world, and the Czech jazz scene probably has a disproportionate number of them. Some are better than others, but it is hard to find a real stinker. However, despite the consistently high quality of the music being produced in this country, there are occasionally albums that really stand out. Even for the listener who now has his quality threshold raised above his hairline due to an over-exposure of greatness there are still some treats out there waiting to be discovered. Fine and Mellow is such an album: a jewel of note in the very sparkly crown.


The album features established Czech singer Eva Svobodová backed by Andršt’s acoustic-orientated band. It oozes class and style. The musicianship is splendid. Eva’s smoky vocals provide a charged thrill verging on the erotic. Luboš eases out the curve of each note with such perfect proportion that Michelangelo's statue of David seems clunky and half-arsed in comparison. The band hums, sings, jiggles, sprawls, attacks, tenses and releases. The choice of songs is striking, original, and totally lovely. It is an album by grown-ups and for grown-ups, but it can still induce the childish joy of virginal discovery. As a package it satisfies in a way so complete that it shouldn’t belong to the modern world. Yes. It is very good.


“I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues” (D. Ellington / D. George) kicks in with Eva to the fore, caressing her way through a languid lament, while the Acoustic Set capture a late night mood of gentle sleaze. Andršt contributes a solo that is as sweet as honey and expressive as a Frenchman in love (although with better taste). Its laidback and slinky feel is indicative of the album as a whole: sophisticated and intelligent, sweet and wordly.


“Masquerade” (J. Loeb / P. F. Webster) opens with some jaunty vibes from Radek Krampl, and is an upbeat treatment of this standard. Instead of wallowing in darkness this is a vivacious and flirty romp, with Krampl also offering up a fine solo later on. The next track, “Black Coffee” (P. F. Webster / F. J. Burke) is a bluesier affair, featuring Štěpán Markovič on tenor saxophone. One of the local scene’s most respected sax-wallahs, Markovič accentuates and highlights the melody with airy phrases that complement Eva’s velvet voice and Luboš’s gentle phrasing.


Everyday (I Have The Blues) (P. Chapman) dates from Depression-era Chicago and features some sterling acoustic bass work from Petr Dvorský, firstly underlying a fine solo shared between Markovič and Andršt, and then moving to the front in his own right. The next number, “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” (C. Mingus / J. Mitchell), is probably the standout track on this album. Dark and shifting, this classic Mingus composition gives the band plenty to think about and they prove themselves to be more than up to the job. Andršt seizes the guitar lines, and in doing so adds himself to the list of guitar greats who have made the solo in this piece their own. Sad and sweet, with the occasional blistering run than he makes sound so easy, it is understated brilliance. Meanwhile Eva interprets Mitchell’s lyrics with empathy and panache.


“Same Ol’ Story” (B. Ighner) is a pulsating and feel-good piece that lists the common threads that bind humanity together. It has plenty of room for the band to flex and explore, and in doing so they give the song a satisfying depth that it would otherise lack.


“Only Women Bleed” (V. Furnier / D. Wagner) has had many lives, including being recorded by rocker Alice Cooper, and here it lives again. Svobodová delivers a mixture of wryness and sadness in the words, while chiming vibes punctuate and an usually raspy guitar contrasts with sweet soprano saxophone. Meanwhile “A Night in Tunisia” (D. Gillespie / L. Robin) is a twisty Latin-influenced affair, with Jaromír Helešic coming out of the shadows on drums with some flashy licks.


“All Blues” (M. Davis) is a catchy standard with its mesmerising six-eight bass motif. Over this Eva layers and stretches her vocals, and band and singer swirl and sway together in a circular lilting celebration that could go on forever and still be too short. Finally the album ends with the title track, “Fine and Mellow” (B. Holliday). It is one final blast of verve; a fitting end to a triumphant recording.


Fine and Mellow is one of those special albums that can take you by surprise. Its agenda is not particularly radical, and yet it is a collection of songs that sound fresh, new and exciting. A classy delight, this is a rare piece of Czech jazz that it is worth seeking out.