Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The View From The Front Row - August 2011

Welcome to the August edition of Prague Jazz! We hope you enjoyed our extra “summer supplement” - the full-length English version of Emil Viklický's recent interview with Jazz Podium. Many thanks once again to Emil for sending us the transcript. We were lucky enough to catch Emil twice in July, once with his regular band (František Uhlíř, Laco Tropp) and once with talented young bassist Jan Tengler sitting for the absent Franta. He's a talented young guy and Emil worked him hard by pulling out a lot of different tunes, including some of his originals that deserve to be heard more often.

Another band that was sounding fresh was the Robert Balzar Trio. It had been over a year since we last saw them live and their set has changed a lot. It included a lot of new music, both originals and interpretations, and some twists on old favourites. There is a lot of energy in that band at the moment – they're definitely worth seeing and hopefully we can get Robert to do an interview for us soon.

The most memorable concert was a family affair - Karel Růžička jr. flew in from NYC in the afternoon and barely had time for a fried cheese and a beer before he was performing with his father's Trio at UMG. As if that wasn't enough to keep him on his toes, his dad presented him with some new songs to play that night! It was one of those special gigs, where great music combines with atmosphere and emotion.

At the beginning in the month I was asked to write a guide to Prague's jazz scene by airline easyJet for their holiday blog. I gave them a Top 10 things for any jazz fan to experience, which can be found at: http://holidayblog.easyjet.com/op-10-jazz-experiences-in-prague. Hopefully this marks the dawn of a whole new era of budget airline jazz tourism bringing music connoisseurs from all over Britain. Or something like that.

This month's live review is from Reduta, where young guitarist Libor Šmoldas put his Quartet through its paces. Younger artists are also represented in our album reviews by Projekt Z, an unconventional album from guitarist Petr Zelenka and associates. We also review a new album from a not-so-new guy on the scene: František Uhlíř's 60th birthday concert recorded as part of the Jazz na Hradě series. As usual we end with our GigTips – a selection of the best jazz concerts in Prague this month. Enjoy the stuff, and of course, enjoy the music...

CD Review: Projekt Z


Projekt Z
Animal Music, ANI 027-2, 2011


Projekt Z is a new collaboration featuring three young musicians who have already made a noticeable impact on the Czech scene. At the moment it is hard to pick up a new album that doesn't feature Marcel Bárta on saxophones and bass clarinet. Daniel Šoltis is a familiar name on drums, and Petr Zelenka has an impressive recording history including two albums under his own name. He also broadened his horizons with a stint living and working in Paris before returning to the Czech scene. They are joined by Spanish flautist Rodrigo Parejo, who is less well known here but comes with vast international experience. Zelenka is the main composer on the album, with some contributions from the others.

The press release that accompanies Projekt Z speaks of “a free space for musical and non-musical communication”. Presumably that is meant to excuse the opening track, "Výkřiky" (R. Parejo, M. Bárta, P. Zelenka), a minute of random honking, parping and squeaking. It sounds like the after-effects of a particularly hot curry. Similarly track 4, "Kulička" (R. Parejo, M. Bárta, P. Zelenka), sounds like a drunk choir rolling dice in a cup while trying to spit out a wasp. And if you've ever wondered what it would sound like if you tried to shoot an an angry pig with a flute then I respectfully refer you to track 7, "Motůrek" (P. Zelenka, R. Parejo).

The remaining 11 pieces thankfully fall into the category of “musical communication”, although maybe not the sort of music that you would expect. This is an album of dark, experimental compositions. The inherent sense of melody that often infuses Czech jazz is hardly noticeable at all, and the result is a harsh ride that often sounds more like King Crimson than Miles Davis. Zelenka's stark, fully electrified sound strides around menacingly while flute and horn wail. The jazz convention of one musician improvising over the patterns of the rest is maintained, but the patterns are edgy textures rather than more conventional riffs.

When this record works it really, really works. "Police" (P. Zelenka) begins with a steady drum pattern (of which there are few, Šoltis spending much of his time in a hyperactive flutter), woodwind sets up the structure, Zelenka fires up the infinite sustain and plays with the precision of a hypodermic needle. Tempos continually shift and change. Beats are dropped and found. There are gorgeous contrasts of hard and soft sounds. Bárta cooks up a top-notch solo as the band cranks it up to furious climax before dropping down into a sparse coda. Live, with the volume pedals kicked down to the floor, this could be an absolute killer.

There is no bass instrument on Projekt Z other than the low, thick sound of the bass clarinet. Its distinctive tones are all over the album and used to good effect on tracks like “Music Box” (P. Zelenka), its warm tones ever-present in the background. The drums beat a march and the flute takes the role of the army band pipe. An effervescent flute solo steals the show, but all the time that bass sound is there, growing and evolving.

Prozaik” (P. Zelenka)  sounds like something from the “prunk” movement – that seemingly-contradictory fusion of punk and progressive rock: blaring sax and skiddy flute over a fast riff and thrashed drums, held together by periodically melodic passages in unison. There's some shouting too. “Raketa” (P. Zelenka) also has that rocky edge, and with that jagged guitar sitting alongside flute and sax it really does sound like a lost King Crimson track, albeit with technically better improvisational including some great work by Bárta.

The dissonant strands of "Marš ven" (P. Zelenka) never resolve themselves into anything satisfying, but the last two tracks are satisfying indeed. “Last Call Blues” (P. Zelenka) is delivered with melancholy slow motion and shows that there is something special here. This band can play a simple tune and it does not sound ordinary. There is still room for the creativity, the improvisation, and even a touch of the chaos. Their almost pathological avoidance of melody is unnecessary. “From One Dream To Another” (P. Zelenka) is even more understated, and even more powerful for it.

A strange one indeed this album. They took risks and that has to be applauded: there's no excuse for young artists who spend all their time painting by numbers. And there are many moments where it is different, exciting, stimulating, frightening even, and it will be interesting to hear how they adapt to live performance. But what are these moments of “non-musical communication” meant to be? A joke? An artistic statement? Speaking of jokes, using the initials of the band members to make a rude word for one of the song titles is tiresome. The music of Projekt Z has the potential to endure. I suggest they stick to playing it.

Tracklist:

1. Výkřiky (Rodrigo Parejo, Marcel Bárta, Petr Zelenka)
2. Podruhé (Marcel Bárta)
3. Marš ven (Petr Zelenka)
4. Kulička (Rodrigo Parejo, Marcel Bárta, Petr Zelenka)
5. Rubato Boom Is Over (Petr Zelenka)
6. Police (Petr Zelenka)
7. Motůrek (Petr Zelenka, Rodrigo Parejo)
8. Z.M.R.D. (Petr Zelenka)
9. Raketa (Petr Zelenka)
10. Music Box (Petr Zelenka)
11. Prozaik (Petr Zelenka)
12. Šrums (Rodrigo Parejo, Marcel Bárta, Petr Zelenka)
13. Last Call Blues (Petr Zelenka)
14. From One Dream To Another (Petr Zelenka)


Samples are available at http://www.animalmusic.cz/katalog/projekt-z

Review: Libor Šmoldas Quartet

Reduta
18th July 2011

One of the most interesting parts of following a local jazz scene is seeing the younger musicians grow and develop into interesting and respected artists. Libor Šmoldas first appeared on the PJ radar as a member of Organic Quartet: a good outfit but not the easiest place for the guitarist to make his own voice heard. Libor is now an established player in his own right, with his Quartet that performs regularly in the Czech Republic and also undertook a three-week tour of America.

In his band he has fellow Organic Quarteter Tomáš Hobzek (drums), pianist Petr Beneš and bassist Josef Fečo. Fečo is currently one of the hottest bassists in the country, working with the likes of Karel Růžička, Zuzana Lapčíková and Emil Viklický. He was a decent player when we first saw him five years ago, but now he is electrifying.

Playing at Reduta can be a strange one. Sometimes there's only a handful of people in the audience, sometimes it can be packed. This was an unpromising Monday night but even so the tourist groups filled out the benches, recently transformed from their traditional green to a plush and slightly disreputable red. There were a few locals too, and a few guys from the annual Czech Jazz Workshop where Libor was teaching. The band started unusually: on time and with a joke.

Not many jazz musicians chat with the audience during concerts. A lot smile and nod, most introduce some of the songs, and a couple communicate solely through the language of music. Libor was chatty throughout the show, asking which languages the audience spoke, introducing the songs with stories and dedications, and generally inviting the audience into his musical world. A nice touch, immediately making the Quartet a band that you want to like and want to see fly.

The setlist was primarily original compositions, most of which were penned by Šmoldas himself. “Blues in the Shower” (L. Šmoldas) was an uncompromising way to start: fast, syncopated, alternating broken patterns that rested uneasy on the ear with extended solo passages. Šmoldas's style is smooth and sweet, bebop-style jazz guitar rather than rougher, blusier playing, and he can produce an astonishing number of notes from seemingly no physical motion.

The Quartet moved through a balanced sequence of different styles. “On The Playground” (L. Šmoldas) was a funky groove ridden into submission. “Lenka”, written by the bassist and named after his wife, was a romantic and tuneful piece introduced by a well-crafted bass solo. Fečo is capable of working melody out of his instrument as well as well as rhythm, occasionally taking the lead as others fell in behind.

Hobzek has matured into an explosive drummer, his solos fired out with a rockier edge and his sound clear during ensemble playing. Beneš on the other hand was a bit lost in the mix, although he did produce some enjoyable passages and his own composition, “Waiting for Art”, was a pleasing dose of rippling piano occasionally rising into turbulent crescendo. The song title was given with full explanation: Art was the name of a dog. Despite the sophistication of their music this outfit is as unpretentious as it is friendly. It is also fun.

There were lots of moments that raised a smile from the keen observer. Fečo's total commitment: he seemed to be bodily absorbed into his distinctive cut-off travel bass. Tricksy endings that were beyond prediction. The competition to get the last note. Mischievous collusion in the rhythm section during the piano and guitar solos. Good stuff. Live music.

The quality of the writing was also commendable “Lyndian Blues” (L. Šmoldas) is as sweet a melody as anything I've heard in a long time, and “One For Kenny Burrell” (L. Šmoldas) is a sparky guitarist’s workout. There were very few songs during the night that didn't contain one of those "special moments"  either in the playing or in the tune itself.

The Libor Šmoldas Quartet are a band worth seeing, and definitely a band to keep an eye on in the future. Their Live At Jazz Dock album, free to download from Libor's site,was recorded in 2010. They sound good on there, but they sounded even better at Reduta.

CD Review: František Uhlíř 60 (Jazz na Hradě)

Multisonic 31 0822-2
2011

It was only fitting that František Uhlíř, a Czech musician of the very highest calibre, should have his “60” concert Prague Castle. There he would bring together eight friends from around the world to join him for his landmark birthday, making this Jazz na Hradě event a joyful and celebratory occasion.

The core of František's band consisted of Adam Tvrdý, (his regular guitarist in the František Uhlíř Team), drummer Wolfgang Haffner and pianist Mark Aanderud. They were joined by Wolfgang Lackerschmid on vibraphone, recalling past times when František regularly played alongside the legendary Czech vibe-master Karel Velebný. Brass and horns were provided by Eddie Severn on trumpet, Michal Wrobelewski on alto sax, Pius Baumgartner on tenor sax and Přemek Tomišíček on trombone. Despite the large number of musicians making noise there is always room for the distinctive elastic sound of the man they call the Paganini of the Bass. Whether pizzicato or arco, whether taking the lead or walking in the background, his performance sparkles. You really could listen to the whole album just focusing on his bass parts and still be held in fascination.

The album's songs can be roughly divided into two categories: those played by the full (or almost full) ensemble and those played by a smaller selection of its members. The larger ensemble pieces are often reminiscent of the Jazz Messengers, although led from the bass rather than from the kit. Agile, responsive and nimble, there is much room for improvisation within the arragments. The other tracks call upon different styles of jazz, including the vibes-led “Sahras Bende” (W. Lackerschmid) that moves away from brassy bop and into late night mellowness. Brushes on the kit while vibes, guitar and bass trade lines. These are musicians who are obviously listening to each other, seemingly on a telepathic level, and the way they interact and feed off each other is inspirational.

There's more stripped-down coolness in the lilting opening of “Castles in the Air” (E. Severn), Severn taking the lead in his own composition and playing with a warm and clear tone. Tvrdý also excels here: one of the best things about the sparser arrangements is that there's more of a chance to listen to this guy. He's another of the younger generation of Czech musicians who is maturning into an exceptional talent. But then, you don't get a place in Franta's band without being pretty damn good!

Song for Jane” (F. Uhlíř) is a blast from the past; this Uhlíř original appeared on his 1984 album, Basssaga. A trio for drums, piano and bass, František picks up his bow and recalls this haunting melody from his instrument. In the liner notes pianist Aanderud is described as “the discovery of the concert” and here he plays with charm and sensitivity. He also shines during a tip of the hat to the “other” Czech bassist, the elegantly constructed “Song for George Mraz” (F. Uhlíř).

The big sound of the full ensemble is typified on the familiar “Father's Blues” (F. Uhlíř), painting with broad, firm strokes. It is in these tunes that we hear both saxophones warble and swagger, and Tomišíček creates some interesting trombone solos on “Father's Blues” and “Wabash” (J. “Cannonball” Adderly).

Through the first seven songs Haffner is kept contained, never stepping out on his own. His playing is an integral feature of the band's sound, an intelligent drummer who is constantly working away, but just when it is looking like he is too shy to solo he throws two into the mix. The first is on “Lets Go On” (F. Uhlíř), with the band in full good-time Jazz Messengers mode, and the second is during the oddly named “Softly As In The Morning Sunrise” (S. Romberg). There's not much softness to be found here, but a carnival grand finale. There are hints of Latin in this one, satisfyingly picked up on and toyed with by the pianist.

This album is 75 minutes of sophisticated jazz to make you smile. There is exuberence, excitement and a clear bond of musical friendship. It isn't an album that will frighten the neighbours, but the subtlety and complexity of the playing constantly rewards close listening. At the heart of this band, and at the heart of the music too, is the man himself. František Uhlíř, gentleman genius and Paganini of the Bass, we at PJ salute you!

Tracklist:

1. Introduction by President of the Republic Václav Klaus
2. Expectation (František Uhlíř)
3. Father’s Blues (František Uhlíř)
4. Castles in the Air (Eddie Severn)
5. Wabash (Julian “Cannonball” Adderley)
6. Sarahs Bande (Wolfgang Lackerschmid)
7. Nenazvaná (František Uhlíř)
8. Song for G. Mraz (František Uhlíř)
9. Let’s go on (František Uhlíř)
10. Song for Jane (František Uhlíř)
11. Softly as in the Morning Sunrise (Sigmund Romberg)

GigTips: August 2011

There are so many jazz gigs in Prague that it would be impossible to list all the good ones, even with careful selection to weed out the routine and the mundane. Instead we offer you a handful of gigs each month that we feel could be of special interest.

August's best gig is likely to be at Jazz Dock on 5/8: Karel Růžička jr. will once again be joining his father's Trio for a very special night of music. According to the Czech Jazz Society's website this gig will be recorded, so expect excellence and an electric atmosphere. Růžička jr. is one of those players who has to be seen (and heard!) to be believed – a master of the saxophone. Be there if you can.

Also at Jazz Dock you can see Latin singer Marta Töpferová (11/8), visiting from NYC and playing with her regular Czech associates David Dorůžka and Tomáš Liška. Robert Balzar plays there with his Trio on 19/8, and after hearing them play in July we can confirm that they are on top form at the moment, brimming with new ideas and new music.

If the weather blesses the weekend of 6-7/8 then there's a great chance to see some of Prague's best bands for free in Old Town Square. AghaRTA are holding their annual Jazz Week, including the now traditional two day outdoor festival. Full details are available on their website but for us the essential acts to see are the Luboš Andršt Group (6/8 at 16:30) and the extremely energetic Rhythm Desperados (7/8 at 16:30).

If our Libor Šmoldas review has got you curious then Libor is in action at U Malého Glena on 4/8. Glen's is a very small club so reservation is essential if you want to be anywhere near the front and not stuck outside in the bar. Libor will also be playing guitar in his wife's Latin outfit, Zeurítia, at Reduta on 22/8. Finally for this month, the always excellent Emil Viklický will be at Reduta on 12/8. If you want to learn a little more about Emil before you see him then please do check out his extensive interview here.

Club programmes are subject to change so it is best to check with the venue, and don't forget to make a reservation to be sure of a good seat. If you go to any of the gigs listed here please let us know what you thought, and please do tell the venue that you saw the gig tipped on Prague Jazz.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Interview: Emil Viklický

In March 2011 pianist Emil Viklický was interviewed by Detlaf A. Ott. The interview was translated into German and abridged slightly for publication in German magazine Jazz Podium. Emil very kindly sent us the original English transcript of the interview for publication on Prague Jazz.

Emil had previously recorded a concert in Leipzig, where this interview was done. It begins with Ott asking him about the recording if that album. Enjoy...



JP: One year ago you played an amazing concert with the English sax player Julian Nicholas. How does it sound to you today? Are you satisfied with the result?

EV: If you listen to the material immediately, let’s say in a week, you are too emotional to listen to the failure. After one month, or let’s say three months, listen to the material and if you still agree [that it is good] then it is probably good. If you hate it still after three months then it is bad. In this case – the concert in Leipzig - Julian and me, we chose about 65 minutes of good playing from the two hour concert for the CD.

JP: Can you tell me something about your collaboration with Julian Nicholas? When did it start? How did you get to know him? What do you think about him as a sax player?

EV: I know Julian for nearly twenty years. Back 1992-3 I was invited by the English Jazz Federation to be one of the tutors of the Welsh Jazz Society. I met Julian there. Then in 1994, when I was President of the Czech Jazz Society, I invited Julian Nicholas and drummer Dave Wickins to teach in the Czech Republic at a jazz workshop in Frýdlant . During our teaching we played together a lot and got the idea to record. The resulting CD is named after William Shakespeare, Food Of Love. It is interesting that this CD was already issued three times. The Melantrich company was bankrupt soon after they published the CD. They paid us peanuts. But I had the tapes and went with them to the Lotus company. That was the second printing. Julian had a friend in England at SYMBOL records. And so it was published there, too. Three different labels. I wonder which one will be the next…

Next month, on April 15, 2011 Julian and I will play at the Polička Jazz Festival, the city where Bohuslav Martinů was born, plus a few gigs in Prague and Olomouc. Julian is my kind of musician. He very much listens and can react very fast. There are so many great musicians around us who we don’t know. There is a bunch of incredible players in England and they are very little known. A classic example is the tenor saxophone player Bobby Wellins who was actually Julian´s teacher. He is now 75 years old. Practically nobody knows about him. Bobby is originally from Scotland. In the fifties he used to practise in London with Sonny Rollins, and after Rollins said “This is the best European saxophone player ever.” Sometimes the media will push the young musicians whether they are good or not and forget the old masters.

JP: I recognised that you played an Abdullah Ibrahim song in your concert. What is the tie to his music?

EV: Julian brought that song called “Wedding” in the afternoon before the concert in Leipzig. I met Abdullah once in Spain, at the Cadaques Jazz festival. Charismatic person. There is certain melodic sense in this South African music which is similar to old Moravian melodies. I talked to Moravian folklorist Zuzana Lapčíková - we did a few CDs together. She told me the “folkloristic” border cuts Europe in half and it goes down south. There are certain similarities between Hungarian and Turkish folk music, and this can go down as far as South Africa.

JP: What role will this new CD with Nicholas play in your immense discography?

EV: Of course doing such a CD here in Leipzig is something special. It is the town where Bach lived, Wagner was born, and Mendelssohn and Schumann worked.

JP: You’ve said Bach was a mathematician. What does Bach mean to you and what are your main influences in music beside folk music?

EV: Yes, that’s what I’m saying. J.S. Bach! When I’m listening to Bach I’m always amazed how incredible his compositions are. If he wasn't a musician he would have been somebody like G.W. Leibniz, a mathematician. Bach music is so well constructed. I listened to the Goldberg Variations this morning and wondered, “Why do we try to write something? The best things are already written.”

I guess in his time it was natural to improvise. We know the story when Kaiser Wilhelm invited him to play a newly constructed pianoforte in Potsdam. J.S. Bach improvised a fugue not only with three voices but with six voices on the theme given him by Emperor. In a way he must have had the ability that most jazz musicians are trying to have today, to improvise out of the moment. I think he could do that pretty well.

JP: Julian Nicholas wrote in the liner notes to your CD Food Of Love in 2001, “We share a common European experience of jazz music.” What does that mean?

EV: What that means is hard to say. Europeans usually have more interest in harmony and form, having on our shoulders that great tradition of classical music: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Messiaen, Bartók, Janáček etc. American jazz players share a mainly rhythmical approach.

JP: What's the difference for you between playing in a trio or quartet with a rhythm section, and playing in a duo as you did with the Belgian sax player Steve Houben in 2009 or with Julian Nicholas. Is the work with only one partner more intensive?

EV: There is a big difference playing with a trio or quartet or in a duo. Playing in a duo you have to find a partner who can listen and respond. There are a lot of things that you can do only in a duo by closely following each other. Experience plays an important role in doing such things: to guess or intuitively expect what your partner will play.

To play with a rhythm section you have a completely different situation. You can’t expect that all of the four players will react similarly to some of the changes. Material used in trio or quartet must be more precisely structured.

JP: You’ve studied mathematics, left the science because of political reasons and became a jazz musician with SHQ. You then studied composition at Berklee in the 1970s. Why didn’t you decide to follow musicians like Jirí Mraz or Jan Hammer Jr. who left Czechoslovakia for the USA after 1968, or Jan Jankeje and Rudolf Dašek who played in West Germany?

EV: You asked me about my mathematical studies. Not long ago I joked and said, “I should be grateful to this communist rector of Mathematical Faculty.” When I finished in 1971 I wanted to play jazz. My thesis on “Symmetrical Polynomials” wasn’t bad at all, so I was recommended to do a doctorate in mathematics. And I said: “OK, I'll try.” After I finished my 5 years mathematical studies at Palacký University in Olomouc in 1971, I went with my thesis to visit the communist co-rector. He looked at me and shouted:” Viklický, I don’t care about your thesis. You want to have a doctorate, so you have to study Marxism-Leninism.” I didn’t say one word, took my papers, turned around and left the building. I haven’t been there since 1971.

In 1977-1978 I lived in the USA. In May 1978 I decided to stay there. Living in NYC, playing with Joe Newman, Ted Dunbar, Todd Capp and others was great. Mel Lewis told me: “Look Emil, if you stay here I can take you from September '78 as a member of my Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band.” I said: “OK. I probably could do that.” In August 1978 I went back to see my family. After that, no more States. When Roland Hanna saw me playing in the club with Mel Lewis he came to me and said, “Hey, Emil. I thought you were a bass player.” I said, “Why?” “Because you always hang around with George Mraz.” He thought, he is Czech and so he must be a bass player. Sir Roland was surprised that I play piano. We sat down and chatted and I told him the difficulties about my decision. He said: “What’s the problem? Fuck the Communists. Stay here. I'll keep you busy. Don’t worry.” He liked my playing. Maybe I lost my career in the States, who knows?

JP: In his book Northern Sun | Southern Moon Mike Heffley called the Czech jazz musicians freelancing expatriates and not representatives of the official Czech scene. Where do you stand? Would you say that you represent your country and your roots, or does this mean nothing for a wide open mind like you?

EV: I was always trying to find my own way and expression - my own space. I realised that if I’m from Moravia why shouldn’t I find more influences from my heritage? I’m not a folk musician, but was trying to find what were sources of inspiration for Leoš Janáček (1854-1928), a Moravian composer that I admire. Janáček collected folk songs and used the “pattern of speech” method in his composition. When I recorded in New York with George Mraz and Billy Hart for the first time, in 2000, [the Morava album (Milestone/Fantasy MCD 9303)] the famous producer Todd Barkan suddenly said, “Now I know where George got that melodic sense from.” There is something of the Moravian melody in me, and of course also in George.

JP: You did an very interesting album, The Folk-Inspired Piano, on the Supraphon label.

EV: Yes, that’s my old one, before my stay in Berklee. When I was in the studio in 1977 to record the album somebody from the Ministry called and told that I was not allowed to go to the States. Antony Matzner - the producer - was so clever he didn’t tell me. He let me record and after he said to me, “Hey, Emil, on Monday I should have told you aren't allowed to go to USA.” But later on somehow they gave me the “stempel”.

JP: Years later you went back to the States. Recently you played a sold out concert at Dizzy’s with Mraz and Bittová and Moravian Gems. Why do you think your music so popular in the States? Does the Moravian inspiration make it exotic there?

EV: Probably. It was a sold out concert, twice. Both shows sold out, 19:30 and 21:30, 300 seats - simply incredible. And we were booked for a Monday date, January 3rd, 2011. Monday night is the worst one you can get. Of course on Friday, Saturday you can expect that it will be sold out at Dizzy´s. But not on Mondays. People came from everywhere: upstate New York, Connecticut, even from Boston, which is 300 miles away. They came to see the show. George Mraz had the 'flu, he couldn’t talk. So I was introducing the tunes we played. Dizzy’s is a wonderful place. From the concert grand Steinway you can look through those big windows down at Central Park and Columbus Circle. Very inspiring.

After that I played a duo with multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson at the Bohemian National Hall, on 73rd Street. On YouTube you can find nearly all the songs we did.

JP: You studied composition at Berklee. How important is the relationship between composition and improvisation in your music? In a characteristic about Czech jazz Mike Heffley wrote: “…so the Czech jazz scene tended to foreground technically perfect composers-arrangers first, and technically brilliant improvisers only in the frameworks of those principles.” What is your point of view on this opinion?

EV: Well, who the hell is Mike Heffley? I don’t think he knows the scene well. He probably talked only to some Czech youngsters trying to sound like ECM. Or has seen some types of musicians who worked like that. But I think you can’t generalise musicians from a country in this way. I don’t work the way he describes. The part of improvisation in my music, e.g. with Julian Nicholas in Leipzig, is very important. Nearly nothing was prepared beforehand.

Czech composer Leoš Janáček used a compositional method he called “Pattern of Speech”. He listened to people talking, especially sentences they said with a lot of emotions. He notated these patterns down and used them later for composing. The classic example is in the third act of his opera Jenůfa. Mezzo-soprano “Kostelnička” sings the phrase: F♭ , F♭ , Eb♭ , D♭ , B♭. That is an absolutely typical jazz/blues phrase, but composed in 1900. Janáček couldn’t know anything about jazz. That brings me to another fact: Recently I just finished a piano concerto with full symphony orchestra - 25 minutes long. Somebody asked me, “Is this a “jazz concerto?”. I said, “No, I don’t think so.” I don’t really know what that means, a “jazz” or “non-jazz” motive. It is up to the musicologists to decide. I don’t really care whether this is jazz or not. It's just music.

JP: You wrote a composition for Wynton Marsalis with lyrics from Václav Havel. What is the story behind it?

EV: Legendary producer Todd Barkan recommended me for a Lincoln Center opening in October 2004 to write jazz melodrama for the Wynton Marsalis Big Band. Six different composers from the world were asked to write six jazz melodramas based on the texts of the world's leading politicians. My score The Mystery of Man used texts from former Czech president Václav Havel.

Todd called and asked me, “Emil, do you write for Big Bands?”. Of course, I studied in Berklee with Herb Pomeroy - only 15 students each year could study with him! – so we are small closed society of Herb Pomeroy´s students around the world. In the eighties I wrote charts for the Zurich Big Band, NDR (Norddeutsche Rundfunk), all the Czech Big Bands. I’m an experienced Big Band writer. Then there was a telephone conference with Wynton. He asked me a lot of questions and at the end he said, “Ok, do it.”

My melodrama The Mystery of Man got a few great reviews in the USA. What helped me tremendously was my operatic experience. In the period of 1999-2003 I wrote 3 full scale operas. My Phaedra was played in Berlin´s Unten den Linden opera house, my opera Ackermann und der Tod was played in Deutches Oper in Berlin as guest performance from Prague. My experience with writing the Ackermann und der Tod score helped me to write The Mystery of Man. I have discussed it with Václav Havel, we both agreed that I don’t need one narrator but two. When Mystery of Man was played in Prague later it was a big success, too. Perhaps, there will be another chance in Germany?

JP: As an old master who is looking back on deep experiences in jazz, how do you see the future of our culture? Discussions often go about the role of studying jazz at universities and less opportunities for young musicians to play jazz and get paid. How is the situation in your country?

EV: The Czech scene is not different to other countries. Young musicians have the tendency to go more to the commercial side. Jazz has something inside that I call the “self saving ability”. Jazz is able in certain moments to modify itself. We know that universities and music schools produce more and more musicians but there are no opportunities for them to play. Jazz is the type of music that has the improvisation in it, and such a music won’t die, I hope. Another characteristic of jazz is the spontaneity, which is mostly missing in contemporary classical music of today. You have very well trained contemporary musicians, technically impeccable. If the joy, happiness and spontaneity of jazz could mix with the contemporary classical music, this could lead to something special.

JP: Do you sometimes feel that you haven’t got enough of a reputation?

EV: It is hard to say. I am satisfied about what I did. I wrote a lot of film music, theatre music etc. Also I did music for the German TV series Ein Hamster im Nachthemd in Cologne. I was lucky to work with film cutter Miroslav Hajek who did all the early Miloš Forman movies. Mr Hajek liked me and recommended me for other movies, so I worked with high professionals. In America as a jazz piano player I would never have got the chance to get to the movies. I am grateful for that.

My last CD is on a Japanese Label VENUS Record.s It is a trio with Lewis Nash and George Mraz. The company is marketing it as The Janáček of Jazz. That’s an old title I was given by Chris Parker back in the 1997 in The Times, London. The Japanese writer Haruki Murakami is fascinated by Czech culture. He often speaks about Kafka and Janáček. That is how the producers decided to call me Janáček of Jazz. And now I’m selling CDs in Japan quite well. That’s crazy. Last year I played a solo piano concert in Tokyo, and Murakami came. He usually doesn’t go out in public. Very, very seldom. My next record in Japan will be a tribute to Murakami.

JP: What are you planning to do next?

EV: This month I have a short tour with Steve Houben, next month – April 2011 – I will play with Julian Nicholas again. With Richie Cole I will play a few concerts in Chicago in May and some festivals in Europe.

JP: A last question. What is the CD title?

EV: At first I thought about Mood Indigo because we destroyed this Duke´s tune so beautifully in a kind of Thelonius Monk-ish way. A friend of mine, painter Jiří Anderle,  has a picture called Spring Frenzy. Our concert was on March , it couldn’t be better description of the mood during that time. So, that´s it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The View From The Front Row - July 2011

A couple of days late, but better late than never! Welcome to the July edition of Prague Jazz, this month featuring two interviews, rehearsal footage from Emil Viklický, an invitiation to download and review a Czech jazz album for free, and GigTips - our pick of upcoming concerts.

The interviews are two sides of the same coin: an American musician who now plays in Prague and a Czech musician who now plays in New York City. They talk about the good (and otherwise) points of playing in their adopted homes, their collaborations, experiences, plans and ambitions.

In June Czech Radio had their annual Open Day, with tours of the studios and a chance to meet star presenters and also the ladies and gentlemen behind the scenes who make it all happen. It was very gratifying to be instantly recognised by Petr Vidomus, the man behind the Euro Jazz project. Euro Jazz is an internet radio station that continually broadcasts jazz music from around the world, with an emphasis on Czech and European artists. The programmes are themed around genres, such as modern mainstream, experimental, swing and bop. It is free to listen to on the web at http://www.rozhlas.cz/jazz/portal/, and with little talk and lots of music it can be enjoyed even if you don't understand a word of Czech. Their jazz news pages are also very good, and although they are in Czech they can be easily decoded using Google Translate.

If you are in the mood for even more free music then do download the Libor Šmoldas album (see below). Normally we review albums so you can decide whether or not you want to buy them, but as this one costs you nothing to download we're reviewing it in reverse, and asking you the reader for your comments and thoughts.

June saw the 70th birthday of President Václav Klaus, and it was celebrated at a Jazz na Hradě concert dedicated to the occasion. The inclement weather meant that the planned garden venue had to be substituted for the Spanish Hall, but still it was interesting to see Emil Viklický and Jiří Stivín jamming together. Emil is currently working on a new album, as you will see from the rehearsal footage. More news on that when we have it.

Writing these words in the PJHQ penthouse, watching the rain coming down hard, it is hard to believe that this is really summer. Hopefully sunny days are on the way, but until then our advice is to kick back at home, open a beer or three, and put on your favourite Czech jazz album. If you want to contact us don't forget the Prague Jazz Facebook page, and also you can follow @tonyemmerson on Twitter.

Interview: Rene Trossman

There are two sorts of blues fans in Prague: those who go and see Rene Trossman and those who should. His is the sound of authentic Chicago blues, coming from an authentic Chicago heart. It was there that Rene played the clubs for a decade before moving to Europe and settling in Prague. He is known not only for his slick guitar sound and raw voice but also for his frankness and honesty: Rene tells it how he sees it, and this is how he sees it...

PJ: What was the Prague scene like when you arrived?

RT: Much more “transient”, and I refer to both the expat populations as well as the venues. In the nineties it was a lot easier in many ways, bureaucracy aside, to try almost anything, and people did. This applies to music as well. I remember “creating” venues in existing places that previously never had music. Walk in, hey do you want live music? Yeah, maybe!

PJ: What changes have you seen, for better and for worse?

RT: A huge increase in the number of quality musicians would be the main “for better”. Also, the jazz scene itself has become a lot more “sophisticated” and the blues scene, well, it “became”... Now, there are some incredible guys playing here, guys who are at an International Level and could play anywhere.

As far as the “for worse”, we could do a separate interview for that some day. In an effort to be concise here, I will limit my response to this with one specific “for worse” examples, that being musicians' wages.

Somehow, in spite of the fact that virtually everything costs a lot more today in Praha than in the nineties, musicians' wages are stuck in some sort of time warp. Granted, there are the exceptions that prove the rule and I don’t want this to be an overall indictment of all venues in the country, but, in general, the wages for musicians have not kept pace with all of the other increases. I receive offers that echo the nineties, and in many cases I can distinctly remember actually being better compensated back then! More recently I’ve played private parties where the shrimp table at the buffet costs more than what they were paying the band.

The result of this has been that a lot of the best musicians are sitting at home, because they don’t want to be taken advantage of and exploited, while owners make a profit from their talent. Even worse is the collateral damage, the programmes are now filled with those musicians who ARE willing to play for such insultingly pitiful terms.

The real losers? The paying public. What I do “get” is this: Typical venue here: 150-200Kč tickets, 40-80Kč beers, t-shirts for 200Kč, and for the band? It’s back to the nineties! Or some crappy offer a “door-deal” for a percentage of tickets sold, which if any type of promotion were to be done might be “alright”.

PJ: Who are the people you’ve enjoyed playing with most, both locals and international musicians?

RT: Locally, there are a few guys that I have played with, in various incarnations, for a long time. The Hammond Organ player, Jan Kořínek, drummer Martin Kopřiva, bassist Taras Voloshchuk (UKR), drummer Martin Šulc, and guitarist Jirka Hokeš are the guys here that I’ve known the longest and have worked with the most over the years. I continue to have musical connections to all of them in one form or another today.

Internationally, the blues man Mr. Eb Davis from Memphis, now living in Berlin. Eb and I have done a lot of things together over the years, including recording a CD with Jan Kořínek and Martin Kopřiva. A blues singer from Chicago, Mr. Lorenzo Thompson has also done a lot here, again including a CD with the same cats mentioned above.

More recently I had the privilege of working here with Miss Deitra Farr, an incredible blues singer from Chicago, and also recently we had the timeless wonder here, a blues guitarist and vocalist, Mr. Chick Willis from Atlanta, who did a tour here with us a couple of years ago at age 74. I learned a lot from all of these great people and had a lot of fun too.

PJ: When you are performing what gives you the most satisfaction?

Tricky topic here Tony! Naturally I want go out there each and every time and be better than the last time, and simply do the best I can, whether it is for 5 people or for 500 people. I try to do my thing in an honest way, and “do it like I mean it” every time. This being the goal, it is not always possible to achieve it every single time out.

Having said that, most of the time I am my own worst critic and have received compliments on nights when I did not think that it was warranted, and conversely there have been nights where I thought we really tore it up and not a word. The thing between the band and its public, it’s like the classic “chicken or the egg” argument of which came first. A band can get a lot of energy from their audiences, however it also necessary for a band to give energy to the audience, in order to receive any energy back from them.

Now I can actually answer your question and you may perhaps better understand this answer now that I have provided the “back-drop” to it. I’d say that when I am performing the most satisfying thing that happens is when someone tells me, “I don’t know anything about blues or have any blues CDs, but I loved the concert tonight.” The other is when someone says, “Hey, I also play blues in a band, back at home, and I really enjoyed your gig.” Everyone else seems to fall into some “middle” category, so to speak.

PJ: Where do you find the inspiration for your own songs?

From my own life and experiences mostly. I sometimes joke about a certain song I do as being from “The angry period” and another about being written “After she dumps you for the second time”. Of course as with a lot of writing, there is a certain amount of “poetic license” granted. So, if you ever hear me singing about killing someone or some other unreal scenario, be sure, I am using that license!

PJ: What advice would you give arriving musicians who want to break into the Czech scene?

RT: Be realistic. Disappointments will be the result of your own expectations, and how realistically these two things line up. Visit the scene, evaluate it and your own expectations in order to decide if they should in fact choose Prague. Tony, two things here, NOBODY gets into the jazz/blues music business, ANYWHERE, for the purposes of making any actual money, and secondly, I would not list Prague as a place where someone is going to become “famous” or renown in the fields of jazz or blues. There it is, the plain and simple truth.

I would like to say here that I do NOT live in Prague, nor did I choose to live here, because of the “music scene” here. Yes, there are opportunities to play, it is one of the collateral advantages of living in high-tourist city such as Praha. The key word being “opportunities” As to the quality of these opportunities and what rewards they offer, again, this is the expectations part.

The fact is, doing what I do, I can do it almost anywhere in the world that I choose to do it. I happen to enjoy living in Praha. After all, we all live in a place more than we play (work) in it. I can travel all around Europe to play, from Praha. I came here a lot of years ago and certainly did not ever plan on or even think I would stay as long as I have. Obviously if it did not suit me I would no longer still be here.

PJ: What are your current plans and ambitions?

RT: Currently, I am working on completing a new CD of all original compositions. Further on, I want to focus on booking festival appearances abroad. This is such a great way to reach a lot of people in one moment, and affords a lot of great new opportunities to return somewhere in the future as a result.

My ambitions are to quit smoking and attain Nirvana. That is all Tony, thank you.


And many thanks to Rene for his time and this thoughts. You can visit Rene at his website - www.renetrossman.com - and see him in action at the end of July:

JULY 26 - Jazz Dock
JULY 27 - U Malého Glena
JULY 28 - Blues Sklep
JULY 30 - U Malého Glena

And finally here is the official video for one of Rene's songs, "My Endless Blue Mood", featung his band and filmed at U Malého Glena.

Emil Viklický - New Album Rehearsals

It is always a time of excitement and anticipation here at PJHQ when Emil is working on a new album. His current project is Kafka On The Shore, an album for Venus Records in Japan. To give you a taste of what it will be like here's a clip of the band in rehearsal at Czech Radio's famous Studio A, where many great Czech (and Czechoslovak!) albums were recorded.

CD Review: Your Turn!

Free!

Anyone who says that there is no such thing as a free lunch has never gatecrashed a wedding reception. Anyone who says that there is no such thing as free music has never been to the website of guitarist Libor Šmoldas. The former member of Organic Quartet is giving away his Live At Jazz Dock album for free, although you can make a financial contribution if you feel so inclined.

We at PJ spend a lot of time telling you how great Czech jazz is so it would be interesting to hear your opinions on Libor's album. You can download it at http://www.liborsmoldas.cz/en/download - just follow the instructions on his website. Give it a listen and please leave a comment to let us (and the world) know what you think!

Interview: Ondřej Pivec

When the Prague Jazz website started one of the most exciting emerging musicians on the local scene was organist Ondřej Pivec. He had that star quality: a young player with technical skill but also a young writer with something to say in his music. He was clearly one of the guys who was going to “make it”, and it was only a matter of time before he headed out into the world to expand his horizons and his musical vocabulary.

Here we catch up with Ondřej’s story in the “city that never sleeps”. No, not Brno. New York, New York.


PJ: Why did you decide to go to NYC and how do you like it there?

OP: The primary idea was to go for about half a year, take lessons, play sessions with people and get better at playing jazz music. From today's point of view it seems like quite a silly idea, as I see that the real learning process takes years or even decades, if you want the outcome to have some kind of value. So overall I really love it - I get to learn so many new things I would never have in Prague.

PJ: How does the NYC scene compare with the Czech scene?

OP: Well, speaking from a jazz perspective, the difference is mainly in the fact that there are more people. So there are more good musicians, more great musicians and more bad musicians. More places to play at, more people to come and listen to etc. which creates a highly competitive environment and therefore a greater level of music. Also, if you are great at what you're doing, there is a chance for you become a member of or play with world renowned bands, which consist of major headliners or as I like to call them "jazz superstars". The prospect of playing with truly amazing musicians keeps everyone motivated and this is something that is unlikely to happen in Prague due to the scale of our jazz community.

Another factor that plays into this is the plethora of musical styles in NYC - something that almost doesn't exist in the Czech Republic. I am very slowly entering the gospel and RnB scene - only realizing the stereotype that "jazz musicians can play everything" is really really off. Especially in today's jazz music scene, when there is not much stress being put on stylistic accuracy and everything is played so "open".

PJ: What do you miss most about playing here, and what is the most enjoyable about playing in NYC?

OP: Well, when I was leaving at the end of 2008, Organic Quartet was in a very good shape and just finally taking off internationally. So it felt a bit sad - after six years of working on a project and leaving it just when the efforts start to pay off. But, I felt a strong need to learn much more about music and the best way I thought to accomplish that would be in NYC, where I would expose myself to new situations, which could lead to great musical learning experience. And that's what I love the most about being in New York - it keeps you on your toes and if you're open to it, you can learn something new every day.

PJ: What are your current projects?

OP: Besides playing for a Harlem gospel church every Sunday, I play every Wednesday at a war veterans' club with a be-bop trio of Jason Marshall (Roy Hargrove's baritone saxophonist) and I've also formed two new projects. One is a funk/fusion trio called CPR (http://www.cprelectrio.com/) and my second project is with an R'n'B cover band (http://www.bandwithoutaband.com/). I am very excited about both groups.

PJ: What are your long term ambitions and plans?

OP: I would love to be musically as versatile as possible, because that allows you to work on many different projects. Soon I want to start writing music again, which I haven't done for nearly two years. Because I took a break to absorb some of the new music I'm being exposed to. It's a never ending process; it seems to me that I'll just have "creative" and "absorbing" eras in my life.

PJ: Do you think you will ever return to CZ permanently?

OP: Currently I see my future here in New York, but like they say: "Never say never"...

PJ: Do you have any suggestions for young musicians who contemplate going abroad for getting more experience?

OP: Yes - do it! Being abroad forces you to adjust to and understand completely different mentalities and cultures, so you begin to understand that your point of view, no matter how strong and valid it is, is just one of many equally valid ones. And the lessons you learn from those experiences are invaluable.

PJ: Is there anything you miss from the Czech Republic that is unavailable in NYC (can be anything, food, things, events, people...)?

OP: I definitely miss my close friends and family members. Sometimes I wouldn't mind having a plate of svíčková or a baked duck witch cabbage and dumplings. Thankfully, they just opened a very good Czech restaurant on the Upper East side of Manhattan a week ago, which I plan to visit every once in a while for a memory of home.


Many thanks to Ondřej for taking the time to talk to us. Best wishes from Prague – we hope to see you here again soon. You can keep up with Ondřej’s work at his website - http://ondrejpivec.com/ - and here’s a clip of him in action. Enjoy!

GigTips: July 2011

There are so many jazz gigs in Prague that it would be impossible to list all the good ones, even with careful selection to weed out the routine and the mundane. Instead we offer you a handful of gigs each month that we feel could be of special interest.

At AghaRTA Jazz Centrum this month you can catch many of the biggest and most influential names in Czech jazz. Guitar wizard Luboš Andršt will be in action on 10/7 and 11/7, followed by pianist Emil Viklický on 12/7. Trumpeter Michal Gera (30/7) and saxophonist František Kop (5/7) are also playing there, reaffirming AJC’s reputation for quality acts that would be respected on any stage around the world. They will be joined by one of the best young players on the scene, pianist Matěj Benko, on 29/9.

If Latin is your thing then do take the chance to see the Yvonne Sanchez Band at Jazz Dock on 13/7 and 14/7. The Polish-Cuban singer, who received very positive reviews for her My Garden album, is an accomplished performer with an enchanting voice. Another great jazz vocalist is Elena Sonenshine, who recently guested at the President’s birthday concert: she’s at Jazz Dock on 3/7 and at Reduta on 24/7.

Finally, don’t forget our recent interviewees. Karel Růžička jr. is over from NYC in July and you can catch him at any of the following gigs:

15.7. - U Maleho Glena
22.7. - U Maleho Glena
25.7.- Jazz Dock
28.7. - La Boca

Rene Trossman's July gigs are listed at the bottom of his interview earlier in this edition.

If you go to any of the gigs listed here please let us know what you thought, and please do tell the venue that you saw the gig tipped on Prague Jazz.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The View From The Front Row - June 2011

Greetings, and welcome to the June edition of the new monthly Prague Jazz. We have been overwhelmed by your positive feedback to the restoration of the site: it is great to know that it is read and appreciated around the world. There’s a big pile of overdue emails staring at me and I will be answering them soon. Your comments and your own stories of the Czech jazz scene are always welcome.

Czech jazz not only reaches out internationally to music fans but also to musicians, and we were surprised and delighted to get a message from US pianist, composer and writer Jack Reilly. A leading expert on the work of Bill Evans he’s also familiar with Emil Viklický’s playing and hopes to include the Czech Republic in his European tour next year. Do take a look at his website - http://www.jackreillyjazz.com/ - it links to a lot of free music.

Jazz can be a visual art as well, and if you have any doubt about that please take a little time to appreciate the work of photographer Patrick Marek. There are extensive collections of his work on his website - http://www.jazzrock.cz/ - and until 12/6 you can see some of his best photographs exhibited in Café Lucerna. The opening of his exhibition was a veritable Who’s Who of the Prague Jazz world, with many top talents coming to celebrate the event.

The saddest news in May was the confirmed death of the Old Lady. For reasons that are not entirely clear U Staré Paní (USP) Jazz Lounge is no more. She will be missed by music fans and performers alike.

In June’s edition we go heavy on saxophone jazz, featuring an interview with Karel Růžička jr. in which we learn what it was like growing up under the guidance of Karel sr., and also a review of the recent album by the Ondřej Štveráček Quartet. We also have a very special gig review, direct from the hallowed halls of Prague Castle, and of course our regular recommendations for the month ahead.

Enjoy this site, enjoy the music, and we will be back in a month with the July edition. If you can’t wait that long then please join our Facebook page, or follow @tonyemmerson on Twitter.

Gig Review: Tribute to Miles Davis (Jazz na Hradě)

Bigger than a normal jazz club.
Prague Castle
23rd May 2011


In Prague there are many places to experience live jazz. There are the clubs of course, heavily documented on this website and a magnet for tourists from around the world. And there are the restaurants where good musicians play for bad audiences and what should be a painting becomes little more than wallpaper. There's Czech Radio's Studio A where you can listen to Big Band concerts and feel decades of Czech music history. You can stand on Charles Bridge and listen to some buskers. Or you can go to Prague Castle and have top international jazz stars introduced by the President.

The Jazz na Hradě (Jazz at the Castle) concerts are no ordinary events. They are played in majestic rooms, such as the ornate Španělský sál (Spanish hall), in front of large audiences. Splendid surroundings deserve splendid musicians, and the Castle concerts are known for bringing together the cream of Czech and international talent. This time the honour of representing the home-grown species fell to pianist Emil Viklický, assisted by Jaroslav Jakubovič (a 1968 émigré currently living in NYC) on baritone saxophone. On the international team were Lenny White (d), who previously played with Davis, Corea, Getz and many others, Jon Faddis (t.) and Tom Barney (b). Barney also played with Davis, as well as with Hancock, Gillespie, Aretha Franklin and many rock acts including Clapton and Steely Dan.

The stage was set, in this case a temporary stage in a 17th century state room rarely open to the public. The audience gathered: a hefty slab of VIPs as was to be expected, a fair collection of musicians (Jiří Stivín easily identifiable in his hat, Elena Sonenshine sitting near the front, Ondřej Hejma in a military-styled suit), and of course the ordinary music fans. There was still room for us, and getting to the Castle early meant being able to get a good view and comfortable chairs; important at a concert performance without breaks.

The music was all Miles: either his own compositions or pieces that he recorded. After a short introduction by President Klaus they kicked off with “Ah-Leu-Cha" (C. Parker), following it up with “Some Day My Prince Will Come” (F. Churchill). Different sides of the band, just as there were different sides to Miles. The first a hard-bopping rapid-fire blaze, the second more lyrical, moody and (in terms of trumpet) muted. Faddis himself admitted that it was no easy for a job for a trumpeter, paying tribute to the man who had done so much to define the sound of modern jazz, but he did an excellent job. During “Some Day” his playing was fluid, caressing and coaxing the melody into existence; during the harder sections he made the instrument wail and cry.

“Summertime” (G. Gershwin) mixed things up: the familiar legato lines giving way to trumpet improvisations, while Emil added a touch of boogie-woogie underneath before taking his turn in the spotlight. His evocative bitter-sweet sound perfectly suited the song, and got a well deserved round of applause from the audience.

Ah... the audience. They were there too, perfectly behaved, perfectly mannered, looking like they'd all had a shower and a shave and were ready to say hello to the President. They were appreciative, or certainly wanted to be, and if someone set them off clapping in the right place they followed obediently. They were perfectly silent, essential for recording (all the Jazz at the Castle gigs are recorded) and good for my blood pressure. But a survey of heads and feet revealed few foot tappers, few rhythmic nodders, few beard strokers, few wry smilers. There were some. More would be better.

“'Round Midnight” (T. Monk) and “All Blues” (M. Davis) were very much familiar territory for Viklický, both being played regularly by his own Trio. The potential power of this ensemble finally broke through: brutal stabs and a menacing “All Blues” throughout which Barney's bass vamps beat like a pulse. Faddis may have introduced it as an example of the calmer side of Miles but this was a simmering interpretation, aided and abetted by the obedient listeners. One by one the players took their solos and dropped out , eventually leaving nothing but the ever-present bass against a backdrop of silence. No chatter, no chewing of salt peanuts, no camera flash and whir. A blank canvas on which a sparse pattern could be drawn. Just how it should be.

Lenny White was continually present, but tastefully so. When you've got his history there's nothing to be proved by unnecessary egotism, and throughout the concert he pitched it expertly. Shifting, dropping beats, playing around: he should have been the main inspiration for wry smiles exchanged between foot tapping beard strokers. A class act through and through he shone on “Bye Bye Blackbird” (R. Henderson), and when he finally took a full solo during “Walkin'” (R. Carpenter) it was worth the wait. The echo of the room added extra thunder as he worked his way around the kit. By the time he had finished even the suits knew they should go wild. Jakubovič also had his finest moment, growling through the bottom notes with a richness that makes you wish that more saxophonists would put down the ubiquitous tenor and go low.

The finale brought lots of flowers and photos with Klaus, and a final blast of “Milestones” (M. Davis) to complete 90 minutes of music, most of which will presumably emerge on a Jazz na Hradě album in the coming months. It wasn't an evening of cutting-edge far-out creation, and I (and perhaps about fifty other people in the room) would have liked to have heard some more esoteric numbers from the Davis repertoire. But we should not forget that this was a one-off, not a regularly gigging band, and so it was always going to err on the side of orthodoxy. What they did do they did very well, and it is always a joyous moment for a lover of Czech jazz to see local artists demonstrating clearly that they can hold their own alongside so much globally-recognised talent.

The Jazz na Hradě experience is not for everyone. Specifically it is not for people who want musical wallpaper. It is a listening concert. The Corridors (or in this case Halls) Of Power do not have the greatest acoustics in the world, but I've heard a lot worse and it is made up for by the lack of distraction. To all the foot tappers, rhythmic nodders, beard strokers and wry smilers out there who have never been, this is your call to arms. If you can stand to wear semi-smart clothing please join me. Let us march en masse to these gigs and help the VIPs time their applause. Jazz fans – to the Castle!

Interview: Karel Růžička jr.

It could be an exaggeration to call two men a dynasty, but they're not far off. Two Karel Růžičkas, one father and one son, one pianist and one saxophonist, two masters of their craft. Růžička sr. is often seen in Prague but it is harder to catch Růžička jr. on this side of the Atlantic. However he will be coming over this summer for a series of shows that are sure to be unmissable, and to get you in the mood here is an interview with the man himself.

PJ: How did your father influence you in becoming a professional musician?

KRjr: In one word - profoundly. I owe my father a huge debt of gratitude for mentoring me and letting me hang around while he was practising and composing. Most of the things I have picked up by simply observing and at times by asking some annoying questions. He also took me to all the jazz festivals and big band rehearsals as a boy. I heard Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon before I could read, let alone spell their names. He had Kind of Blue, and Ballads by Trane, and many other records I was able to check out early on. I remember my dad torturing me with "Tune Up" by Miles - I was about 11 years old and played a trumpet at the time. I had to read the melody down and start to figure out the II-VI-I progressions of the tune before I was able to go to to get on my bike to play football in the park with the boys. I was still not sure if I am interested in music that much. After the usual phases of wanting to be a pilot, doctor and even train engineer I have succumbed to the siren call of the muse. And finally all the work has paid off when I fell in love with the saxophone and I never looked back. Thanks dad!

PJ: Who were the Czech jazz musicians who influenced you?

KRjr: Again I must say my father for most part. And all the cats I worked and hung with over the years - Standa Mácha, Jiří Slavíček , Robert Balzar, Najponk, Franta Kop, Štěpán Markovič - really all of them... I am very sorry if I left somebody out.

PJ: Why did you decide to move to the USA?

KRjr: Mainly my boundless curiosity and desire to learn and expand my horizons. At the time I felt I had already "made it" in Prague and whenever I saw any US musicians they encouraged me come overseas. Wynton Marsalis once told me "the only problem you have as a player is that you're not in NYC."

PJ: What is the NYC scene like compared to the Prague scene?

KRjr: There is not really a fair comparison, mainly because NYC is so diverse culturally and all the musicians gravitate towards it and Prague (and most of Europe except London and Paris) is very monocultural. Jazz is like a cultural gumbo and so is NYC. One very positive thing about the Prague scene is that the media attention and the general enthusiasm of the audience is much larger than in the US, where jazz is more on the fringes. It's definitely much easier for a talented artist to get attention of the media in Prague. It all comes down to supply and demand - here in NYC there are thousands of musicians competing for airplay on WBGO, the only mainly jazz radio station in NYC metro area. But in terms of new media, such as the internet and the satellite radio the sky is the limit, the playing field is levelled, and the game has just started a few years ago.

PJ: Do you have any plans to return to CZ?

KRjr: I am returning every year! I love Prague, but I also need to be in NYC with all the movers and shakers at the vanguard of the music. So I am not planning to be based in Prague permanently in the immediate future. But I find it important to keep coming often, maintain a presence and to give back. In mid July I will be teaching a Czech Jazz Workshop in Prague and play a number of dates with my dad and with my fellow Czech expat pianist Pavel Wlosok.

PJ: What are your current plans and ambitions?

KRjr: I am writing a bunch of music I plan to record and release later this year. Also with organist Ondřej Pivec and drummer Russell Carter we started a new group called [CPR] Electrio with influences ranging from jazz, funk to gospel. My long term ambition is to keep nurturing the jazz audience. We need to educate the future generations about this great and unique art form. There tends to be an unnecessary rivalry among various sub genres of jazz. It's important to keep studying the past while incorporating the best of the present. I believe we need to bring jazz into the 21st century and bridge the gap, where there is any, between the generations. Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock come to mind as the true masters of jazz who realised this almost 50 years ago. The music industry has changed dramatically over the past decade. My goal is to make the best of it now and pay it forward, so our kids can enjoy this great music as much as we do.

PJ: What are your best memories of playing in Prague?

KRjr: Oh gosh! There are so many of them... I am sure some of them I don't even remember! Here are just a few; Playing with The Four with Standa Macha, Petr Dvorský and Jirka Slavíček was so much fun. The gig with Roy Hargrove in 1996, when I was invited to sub for Ron Blake. All the gigs with my dad of course. Playing funk gigs with J.A.R. and Monkey Business and rocking out with Michal Pavlíček , Mirek Chyška and Lucie Bílá. Sitting in with my mentor Bob Mintzer and his quartet last year. All I can say is I am so happy and grateful to have all these memories and I am ready to make many more starting this summer.

Many thanks to Karel for taking the time to answer our questions. Do go and visit his websites - http://www.karelruzickajr.com/ and http://www.cprelectrio.com/ - and if you want to catch him in concert here's his current Euro gig diary (all are Karel sr. except the one with Pavel Wlosok):

15.7. - U maleho Glena (Fečo, Šulc)
22.7. - U maleho Glena with Pavel Wlosok
25.7.- Jazz Dock (Fečo, Dano Šoltys)
28.7. - La Boca (my dva duo) gastrojazz
30.7. - Tábor (Kořínek, Smažík)
3.8. - Augsburg (Stock, Bittner)
5.8. - Jazz Dock (Fečo, Šulc)

For our US-based readers you can also catch Karel at any of the following gigs:

June 8 - Sugar Bar in New York, NY [CPR] Electrio
June 24 - The Fillmore, Charlotte NC with Michael Franks
July 8-10 - Yoshi's, Oakland, CA with Michael Franks
August 12 - Aliante Casino, Las Vegas NV with Michael Franks
August 13 - Long Beach Jazz Festival, Long Beach CA with Michael Franks

And finally, some music. Here's a clip of Karel playing one of his own compositions with his dad on piano. Enjoy!

GigTips: June 2011

There are so many jazz gigs in Prague that it would be impossible to list all the good ones, even with careful selection to weed out the routine and the mundane. Instead we offer you a handful of gigs each month that we feel could be of special interest.

If you enjoyed last month's videos of Piňa co. & Lada then you can catch them live at Balbínova poetická hospůdka on 3/6. "Balbínka" is a tiny music club in the heart of the city, and most definitely not a tourist or expat hangout. Acting like a tourist or an expat will win you nothing but curious stares. It's a great little place to see live music and well worth a visit, even if it does have the most miserable barman alive. If you enjoy the Balbinka experience you may want to return there on 17/6 to see Prague's resident Chicago bluesman Rene Trossman.

Should you want to visit another iconic Czech music venue, and indeed see an iconic Czech band, then you can go to Malostranská beseda on 28/6 to see Jan Spálený & ASPM. ASPM are more of a blues outfit, but some of the names associated with the band (Michal Gera, Radek Krampl, Pavel Razím) should be familiar to all local jazz fans.

There are exciting things happening at Jazz Dock in June for fans of great music and great thrift alike. František Uhlíř plays there on 5/6 with KUK (Kagerer/Uhlíř/Knod). František, commonly referred to as "the Paganini of the bass" is one of the legends of the Czech jazz scene and any project that he is involved with is sure to be worth investigating. Jazz Dock will also be acting as a stage for the United Islands of Prague festival, where admission is free and acts include the excellent Matěj Benko Quintet (25/6) and the Kalfus / Doležal Quartet (24/6).

If you're a foot tapping, beard stroking jazz fan who knows when to clap, and you fancy adding some atmosphere to the President's 70th birthday party, then the details of the next Jazz at the Castle are below:



Finally for June, if after reading this month's album review you're keen to experience the Ondřej Štveráček Quartet then they'll be playing at Jazz Time on 9/6 and 14/6.

If you go to any of the gigs listed here please let us know what you thought, and please do tell the venue that you saw the gig tipped on Prague Jazz.


CD Review: What's Outside

Ondřej Štveráček Quartet
Cube-Metier MJCD21048, 2010


What's Outside is the début album from the Ondřej Štveráček Quartet. Released in 2010, while Prague Jazz was still in hibernation, it caused a stir, pulled in some good reviews, and generally got the name of Ondřej Štveráček thrown about far more than it had been beforehand. He's a busy guy, with regular club dates both here and abroad (Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia are on his current schedule) and will be playing as part of the Bohemia Jazz Fest.

His Quartet features the frighteningly young Tomáš Baroš (b), classically trained Ondrej Krajňák (p) and the impressive Marián Ševčík (d). Štveráček wields the tenor sax in a manner that makes comparisons with John Coltrane impossible to avoid. He plays hard in the bebop style, cavorting around the instrument with virtuosity and grace. In the liner notes Jerry Bergonzi states that “his intonation and nuances are impeccable” and that about sums it up. His playing is never clumsy, never less that technically superb. The Quartet are joined by Radek Němejc on assorted percussion devices for three of the nine tracks, who sprinkles his offerings liberally in the background.

What's Outside” (O. Štveráček) opens the album and is a slice of accelerated bebop. Drums and bass rattle away, tenor sax rises and falls through the scales, seemingly finding a new path every time. There's skimming phrases in unison, an occasional distressed honk and wail, and the whole thing teeters on the edge of control. The energy and intensity of this tune will be repeated often.

Three For Kate” (O. Štveráček) calms things down slightly. The complexity initially rests with drums and percussion (Němejc is busy) while maturely phrased saxophone glides over the top. The Coltrane moment follows soon though, and again we are given a tour of Štveráček's range.

The album isn't all flash and hyperactivity. “Sasha” (O. Štveráček) is a little slice of after-midnight balladry and brushes, and their interpretation of “Weaver of Dreams” (V. Young) is so light and playful that it seems to belong to another band entirely. Baroš offers up a pretty solo, and the spacier arrangement of the music means that he can be heard more clearly. He's clearly got a lot of talent: the parts are up to scratch, the tone is rich, he's controlled but not too controlled.

Playing like this and not playing any Trane would be just plain disrespectful, and they put together an impressive “Africa” (J. Coltrane). Riffs and patterns fall out of evocative effects and they go for it with a bit of a swagger. Swaggering is something this band does well, as demonstrated on “Dedicated” (O. Štveráček). The longest track on the album, it is also the richest and most interesting of Štveráček's own compositions. A prolonged sweep of an intro, that offers no clue of what is about to come next, opens out into a piano-driven sexy strut, bluesy and full of spirit. It is Krajňák that drives it and keeps it together, also taking his most impressive solo while singing along with himself low in the mix.

It is the influence of bebop that predominates though, with “Out-Sight” (O. Štveráček) being a close but slightly calmer cousin of “What's Outside” and the final blast of “At 10 A.M.”(O. Štveráček) acting as a quick encore. Fire both barrels, solos all round, thank you and goodnight. The sense of the album being a live set is enhanced by the production: stick on a pair of decent cans, close your eyes, and you really could be on the front table, glass in hand, digging the vibe. Prepare to be stared at when you start to clap the solos, especially if you are on a tram at the time. The effect is spoilt only by the fadeout at the end of the otherwise excellent “Out-Sight”. Please don't do that. We like to know how it ends.

An adventurous album then, containing some great playing and some good (occasionally great) writing. It is a demanding listen and not the sort of thing you put on at a dinner party, unless you're like me and want all the dull people to leave. Few compromises and a decent amount of risk. Their gigs and future recordings will be worth following with interest.

Tracklist:

1. WHAT'S OUTSIDE / Ondřej Štveráček / 6:58
2. THREE FOR KATE / Ondřej Štveráček / 4:16
3. DEDICATED / Ondřej Štveráček / 9:57
4. SASHA / Ondřej Štveráček / 3:41
5. OUT-SIGHT / Ondřej Štveráček / 5:35
6. AFRICA / John Coltrane / 8:12
7. GET OUT OF TOWN / Cole Porter / 5:47
8. WEAVER OF DREAMS / Victor Young / 7:55
9. AT 10 A.M. / Ondřej Štveráček / 3:39

Monday, April 25, 2011

Welcome

Hello and welcome to the first edition of the new monthly incarnation of Prague Jazz.

We have kept many features of the original format, such as CD reviews and monthly GigTips. There are a few new ideas though, and I'm very happy that Julian Nicholas agreed to be our first PJ interviewee. We have also selected a couple of interesting videos from the giant bucket of assorted media that is the internet. Do let us know what you would like to see more of on the site.

Because of the monthly format PJ is no longer a good medium for news snippets. We will of course carry major announcements of albums or tours that come our way, but as a device it just does not move fast enough to be an effective news source. As such I hope that as many of you as possible, readers, musicians and record company people alike, use the Prague Jazz Facebook page. So please, fill it up with your news, your press releases, and your thoughts about the Czech jazz scene.

I hope you enjoy the resurrected Prague Jazz website and our May features.

Interview: Julian Nicholas

If you went to see the Emil Viklický Trio in April you may have noticed that there were in fact four musicians on stage. This was because Emil had a special guest with him, saxophonist Julian Nicholas. Julian kindly took the time to tell Prague Jazz a little about his experiences with Emil and the Czech jazz scene. We started by asking him how he first met one of the legends of Central European jazz...

“I met Emil in Wales. We were both teaching on a Jazz Summer School and played in the 'club' in the evenings, finding a mutuality in our music that could be said to emerge from 'folk'-ish expression, and perhaps a Jarret-Gabarek ECM background. Emil invited the drummer David Wickins and myself to come and teach on the Frydlant Jazz School and play some gigs.

“My greatest regret over the years is that I haven't been able to reciprocate with engagements in the UK the kind of situations that Emil has set  up for so many of us in the Czech Republic, but next year I will be freer to promote myself in the UK and work towards making things happen for us there too. Last year we recorded a duo concert in Leipzig, and I believe the promoter may be open to the idea of us forming an international quartet there next time, but generally the plans are improvised like the music. Opportunity provides...

The Czech jazz scene not only has a significant heritage of world class artists, but continues to produce them through inspiring young players to go to college and gig a wide range of styles. However, it would be foolish to pretend that it doesn't suffer from all the same syndromes as every jazz scene the world over: clubs with a reputation and tourist interest not paying enough or knowing or caring enough, no real media coverage or airtime, no record company or publisher business development support, and film and television companies not distinguishing between the real thing and potted clichés. Therefore musicians are forced to exist in cliques or sub-scenes, often pressured to compete with one another instead of pooling resources and working together to combat the anti-jazz exploitative capitalism of the media, some clubs, and the so-called “commercial music scene”. But the upside is that there is, deep down, in most of Europe, Scandinavia, Japan and the United States, a culture of respect for the artistic endeavours and heritage of the Jazz Artist that hasn't survived in mainstream culture in the UK. It still exists in the Czech Republic.

“For example, on Friday we played at the festival in Polička, a small town that has hosted jazz musicians annually for 15 years, and has consequently enriched its local people with a greater understanding of the wide range of music under the jazz umbrella, bringing them together in a unique and very different atmosphere than 'pop' and classical musics can achieve.

“My memories of playing in the Czech Republic are rich with magic moments, like recording our album Food Of Love in the atmospheric orchestral [Český rozhlas] broadcasting Studio A in Karlín, all the times Emil has brought together truly individual players from the Czech scene and internationals like Steve Houben and Scott Robinson for tours or the gig at the Castle, and playing Emil's home town gig Olomouc and feeling 'spoilt' by the level of attention. Many more to come, I'm sure...”

Many thanks to Julian for his time and thoughts, and we look forward to seeing him in Prague again soon. For those of you who didn't get to see him play here's a treat – an “official bootleg” video of him in action recorded from the top of Emil's piano at the Polička Jazz Festival. The band are playing one of Julian's own pieces, "1000 Ships".

CD Review: Richie Cole Q & Emil Viklický (Jazz na Hradě)

Multisonic (31 0799-2)
2011

It is fair to say that Václav Klaus is not the least controversial politician in the world. He attracts attention on both the domestic and the international stages, and the critical coverage often seems to outweigh the positive. Where Klaus cannot be faulted is in his promotion of Czech jazz, not as some sort of historical relic but as a living, breathing cultural identity. The most visible evidence of his support for the genre is the Jazz na Hradě (Jazz at the Castle) concert series, played and recorded in the halls of Prague Caste itself. This is no mere paper endorsement: Klaus turns up and introduces the concerts himself. Whatever else you may think of him there is no doubt that Klaus is, in the words of Richie Cole, a "Jazz President".

The concert on October 17th 2010 brought together talent from both sides of the Atlantic. Richie Cole (as), Ted Hogarth (bar) and Ernie Adams (d) were joined by local guys Josef Fečo (b) and Emil Viklický (p). The resulting album is upbeat and joyous; a celebration of music and cultural collaboration.

The record is a mix of standards and original compositions, including two new Cole numbers penned for the occasion, "Castle Bop" and "Swinging With President Klaus". Cole is known for playing in the style of Charlie Parker, and during "Castle Bop" he revels in rapid twists and turns. Adams impresses with intricate percussion that never overwhelms the band but is worth listening to in its own right. Strong interplay between the two horns can be heard, with Hogarth blowing hard at the low end. Viklický tears it up during his solo, as would be expected. Although miles away from the Moravian interpretations for which he is famous, his playing is still infused with the innate sense of bitter-sweet melody that defines his sound.

It is Viklický who kicks off "Swinging With President Klaus" with an expressive, bluesy piano solo that leads into a strident and snappy piece. Fečo is reassuringly twangy and the melody is sweet enough. "Cacharel" is an infectious Viklický original during which the contrast between alto and baritone instruments is used with great effect.

There are two Gerry Mulligan pieces on the album, bringing the essence of cool jazz to the Castle. "Song For Strayhorn" unites the sax players in fragile and ethereal expression. The poignancy is even echoed in Fečo's bass solo. "North Atlantic Run" contains some of the most proficient ensemble playing on the recording: a good example to busy young musicians of how to not trip up over each other while still being able to do your thing.

Other names who are visited on this album include Ray Brown ("Buhaina"), Horace Silver ("Opus De Funk" - listen out for Adams as he sublimely shifts and changes his patterns under the angular romp of saxes and piano), and of course Charlie Parker. "Confirmation" is full-blooded bebop. They handle it well, audibly enjoying the furious pace. The Cole composition "Bossa Nova Eyes" ends the album in a calmer and more relaxing style; a fluid Latin-tinged workout with satisfying solos.

Just because you put a group of able musicians together on the same stage it does not mean that the gig is going to work. Lack of familiarly or a clash of styles can render the whole substantially less than the sum of its parts. However sometimes they seize the moment and fly. That is what happens here. It shouldn't be regarded as a Czech jazz album but as a world jazz album, recorded in Prague and with some Czech guys on it. There are a lot of Cole fans out there. Hopefully they will discover this disc, and with is discover two excellent Czech musicians who deserve the widest possible global audience.

Jazz Club Guide Updated

Our guide to Prague's jazz clubs has been updated. Big changes include a radical reassessment of Ungelt and the arrival of a jazz club in a Metro station. The guide is completely independent and based on our own experiences over the last four and a half years. Read the updated guide here: PJ Club Guide

GigTips: May 2011

There are so many jazz gigs in Prague that it would be impossible to list all the good ones, even with careful selection to weed out the routine and the mundane. Instead we offer you a handful of gigs each month that we feel could be of special interest.

Najponk has been making waves since his return to the scene, and on 13/5 he will be appearing at U Malého Glena. You can read about the resurrection of Najponk on Czech Position.

If, after reading this month's album review, you're in the mood for a bit of live Emil Viklický then he will be playing at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum on 12/5. Also at AJC this month you can see the Robert Balzar Trio on 1/5 and the Karel Růžička Quartet on 21/5. Karel's distinctive piano playing is loaded with dark beauty and uncompromised feeling, and it is always worth experiencing.

If you want even more Emil he will be appearing once again at a Jazz na Hradě concert. This time it is a star-studded tribute to Miles Davis:


Our final recommendation is for a Trio of musicians: one Czech, one American, and one Iranian. Martin Kratochvíl (piano) is best known for the founding the legendary Jazz Q, and he is joined by
Tony Ackerman on guitar and Imram Musa Zangi on percussion at Reduta on 7/5. It is sure to be a night of good music and entertainment - Zangi is always worth watching!

If you go to any of the gigs listed here please let us know what you thought, and please do tell the venue that you saw the gig tipped on Prague Jazz.

Video: Piňa co. & Lada

As part of PJ's mission to bring interesting artists to a wider audience we are happy to showcase two videos of vocal jazz outfit Piňa co. & Lada.

The band is based around a core of singer Lada Soukupová and bassist Filip Benešovský. Filip was the organiser and star of The Wall 2009, featuring Harry Waters on keyboards, in which Lada also performed. They don't do many gigs because the band has to fit around the prior commitments of its members, but  they would surely go down a storm in places like Jazz Dock. Indeed Filip and Lada joined Harry Waters on stage there in April for two songs and were very well received. Do look out for them and give them your support.