Saturday, January 31, 2009

Robert Balzar Trio Videos

To celebrate the RBT / John Abercrombie tour here are some videos of Robert and his Trio in action, posted to YouTube by the man himself.

"Tale":


"Alone":


"Remember Hymn":


"Eronel":


"Night":

GigTips: February 2009

The last of the winter months is here, and unlike the last couple of years we have had a real winter in Prague. There has been a decent amount of snow and ice, and for a fortnight the temperature never threatened to rise above freezing. In a few weeks the warmer days of spring should be with us, but until then remember to wrap up well before you go out!

Our Tips for February begin at AghaRTA Jazz Centrum, home of the fun and funky Rhythm Desperados (24, 25/2). Playing original material and standards (their version of “Birdland” is a cracker) they combine excellent playing with showmanship and humour, producing a joyous evening of entertainment. Emil Viklický will be dropping through (13/2) to compensate for any misfortune that this unlucky Friday delivers, and woodwind master Jiří Stivín will be putting on two shows with auspicious numbering (2, 22/2).

The Robert Balzar Trio are also calling in twice at the USP Jazz Lounge (12, 28/2) as they prepare for their tour with guitarist John Abercrombie. The RBT have changed their set around a lot for 2009 and have a slightly harder edge thanks to such pieces as “Vinohradská Street 32” and “C.T.A”. Other notables at USP this month are the young guitarists Libor Šmoldas with his Quartet (7/2) and Adam Tvrdý with his Trio (25/2).

If you are in the mood for some blues then there’s always the Charles Bridge Jazz Club, where the Luboš Andršt Blues Band (7, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28/2) and the Alice Springs Blues Band (6, 13, 20, 27/2) come highly recommended.

Our final recommendation for February is the trio of Richard Bona, Steve Gadd, and Sylvain Luc. They will be at the Lucerna Music Bar (4/2) as the first act of the spring AghaRTA Prague Jazz Festival. World class musicians in a world class jazz city.

Please remember that all listings are subject to change so confirm with the venue to avoid disappointment. And please remember to tell them that you saw the gig listed on Prague Jazz!

News: Prague Jazz on GlobalPost

We are happy to announce that Prague Jazz is being syndicated through exciting new venture GlobalPost as one of their World's Top 350 Blogs.

More information can be found at www.globalpost.com. Their Czech Republic page can be found at http://www.globalpost.com/home/czech-republic.

News: Robert Balzar Trio / John Abercrombie Tour

Following the release of the excellent Tales album last year, the Robert Balzar Trio are finally going out on the road with American jazz guitar legend John Abercrombie. They will be hitting Prague's Lucerna Music Bar on March 22nd.

There will also be a rare chance for British jazz fans see one of the Czech Republic's best outfits in action, with two dates (15, 16/3) at London's famous Pizza Express jazz club.

Full tour dates can be found at www.robertbalzar.com.

Monday, January 26, 2009

CD Review: Luboš Andršt Blues Band


Blues Grooves
Fontana Music library FN 164, 2004

Albums of library music can be curious beasts. They are not often destined for the limelight, usually languishing in the utilitarian obscurity of a need-to-know basis. Put together for television, radio, and any other situation where music is required as a backdrop, they are the session musicians, the backroom boys, and the unknown soldiers of the record world. Making library recordings is part and parcel of the life of a working musician in reality, just as much as world tours and endless groupies are an essential part of any rock’n’roll fantasy. They may not arrive with the fanfare of a “normal” record, but they can contain some damn good music.

Blues Grooves, from the Fontana Music Library, is a Luboš Andršt Blues Band album in thin disguise. With Luboš are his regular rhythm section of Wimpy Tichota on bass and Pavel Razím on drums. Organ is provided by prolific Czech player Jan Kořínek, and there’s some down and dirty blues harmonica from Ondřej Konrád.

There are twelve original tracks, all penned by Andršt, and mostly given unromantic practical names such as “Major Blues” or “Relaxed Funky”. Each is given a brief description in the liner notes to aid hurried selection by hassled media underlings, ordered to find a suitable blues tune for the given occasion. Like all library albums there is no sense of continuation or notable structure in the order of the pieces. It would be unusual for the tracks to heard in their entirety, let alone the whole album. So what we have here is not a complex concept masterwork of elaborately constructed mini-epics, but rather a series of sketches, and like any artist’s sketchbook there is a rawness and vitality present. So this is not the Luboš Andršt Blues Band’s very own Mona Lisa, but rather a record of outlines and ideas. And it rocks.

Whatever the band does on this album it does at full pelt. “Good Time Boogie” opens the album with a ferocious roar before settling into a mid-tempo groove complete with a busy harmonica solo. It is guitar that dominates overall, and unashamedly so. Luboš spits, sprays and slides his killer licks all over the place, some of which will be familiar to people who have seen him play live and slip a few of them into his improvisations. The lovely main phrase from “After Midnight”, or something very like, has frequently raised its head onstage in the last year. Endless amusement for riff-spotters is close at hand with this album.

On a similar (and very fine) note, the inconspicuously titled “Minor Blues” sounds remarkably like the instrumental from the title track of the Everything I’ve Done album, released three years after Blues Grooves. It showcases some of Andršt’s best emotive blues playing, combining fearsome chops with raw feeling and mature good taste, and is one of the standout pieces in this collection.

There are some other notable cuts that deserve to be wrenched out of anonymity and given a wider audience. “Rumba Blues” is a joyous and fast-paced (172 bpm, according to the liner note) Latin-flavoured valedictory romp. Guitar and harmonica dance over bass and drums, and it is hard not to smile when you hear this fun-infused slab of sound. “Major Blues” on the other hand is a darker affair, opening with a gorgeous moment of gospel organ that leads into dirty, crying guitar. Kořínek also gets in a dextrous final solo towards the end. The playing all the way through is what you would expect it to be. Even if these guys are messing about they don’t mess about.

There are some good, original pieces of music on this album and it would be a shame if they were not appreciated. It is no grand statement or monumental personal opus and it has no pretensions to be anything of the like. It is a selection of “pure electric blues with hot guitar solos” (as the cover clearly states), and it is a good record of how the LABB sound when they’re working together in the studio. So get yourself a copy, crack open a beer, and notch your air guitar up to eleven. It’s one louder than ten, and it is the volume that this hidden album deserves.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jazz Club Guide Updated

It is almost a year since I put together the jazz club guide for this site, and since then there have been some changes. A new venue has appeared, non-smoking clubs have become the norm rather than the exception, and the chattering of expats at UMG has got worse.

The updated guide can be found here.

If you know of any information that has changed, or have any comments about any of the venues in Prague, please drop us a line here at Prague Jazz.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Gig Review: Ondřej Pivec Organic Quartet

USP Jazz Lounge
29th December 2008


It is fair to say that the organ does not always get the best of press. Its reputation as a serious musical instrument is sullied by caricatures of cinema Wurlitzers, Hammond enthusiasts who will never have girlfriends, and the plastic plinky-plonk of the stereotypical Bontempi entertainer. Pianos are everywhere, analog keyboards are cult items, and modern synthesisers are so respectable that they’re now considered to be real instruments by all but the stuffiest snobs. Sometimes it feels like there is no room for the traditional sound of an organ in the choir of keyboard instruments, except in church. This is not true of course, and anyone with doubts should listen to a Brian Auger or a Van der Graaf Generator album as soon as possible. Alternatively they could go and see the Organic Quartet.

The Organic Quartet, led by organist Ondřej Pivec, are one of the busiest and most accomplished young bands on the Czech scene. At the heart of the Prague jazz world there are many musicians who are in their fifth or sixth decade, and they take to the stage with all the experience and gravitas that those lucky enough to have a long life eventually acquire. However there is also a crowd of younger players out there, gigging hard and paying their dues, who will eventually inherit the Prague jazz crown. It is important that these rising talents are up to the job because they will eventually become the custodians of a historically important musical legacy, and if the Organic Quartet are a sign of things to come then the future looks bright.

With Ondřej are Libor Šmoldas on guitar, Jakub Doležal on saxophone, and Tomáš Hobzek on drums. There is no need for a bassist in the band: Pivec provides the rumbling low notes with bass pedals and left hand key playing in the true organ tradition. The resulting sound is fresh and lively, mixing traditional jazz with elements of funk and blues.

Pivec was in the middle of a long and draining Christmas residency, but he and his band were still going strong. They were not afraid to wander on the wild side, and the turbo-charged “Bite your Grandmother” pulsated with high-tempo aggressive angular playing from all members. The more fluid “Overseason” was slick and smooth, and “Song for Sam” was warm and vibrant. At other times they slowed it right down, allowing the rich and thick gospel-like organ sound to filter though, an instrument that can be spiritual as well as groovy.

One of the things that stood out during the performance was that they really did seem to enjoy playing the music. Šmoldas rarely stopped smiling as he wielded his guitar, mostly subtle and understated but capable of going for the burn when the time was right. Similarly Doležal handled his sax with verve, acknowledging applause from the audience after his solos before retreating to the sidelines as others took their turns. Hobzek pounded the skins with control and taste, rattling out solos that were interesting and not too long. Their efforts were appreciated by most of the USP punters who were generally receptive and quiet, although the inevitable table of fools required several dirty looks and threatening gestures to finally shut them up.

The highlight of the evening, and the unique selling point of this ensemble, was Pivec’s playing. A veritable symphony of motion of feet and fingers, his gliding touch over pedals, keys and buttons worked to provide a wide palette of sounds. Balancing both melody and bassline in ever-changing tones he is a true jazz organist, not just a keyboard player who happens to be using an organ on that particular night.

The Organic Quartet provide a solid evening of entertainment. They are young but they are good, and any naïveté present in their writing and performing is counterbalanced by their enthusiasm and raw skill. They are certainly a band to watch, now and in the future.

It will be a little while before you can watch them though. Ondřej is returning to New York City for a few months. During this time the remaining members of the quartet will be busy with their other projects and will be seen around Prague and the Czech Republic, as well as nipping over to NYC to play with Pivec. Such breaks can be good for bands, and almost always see them back imbued with new vigour. As such we can but look forward to the resumption of the well-travelled Organic Quartet in the summer.

(Photo by Nancy Haselden)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Quote, Unquote

You know you have established yourself as a writer in the Czech Republic when you find yourself misquoted in Slovakia. It is good to see that the influence of Prague Jazz is spreading, even if it is through very loose interpretations of what is actually written!

http://www.non-stop.sk/content/view/3716/95/

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all our readers!

We hope that wherever you saw in 2009 you had a good time. We at Prague Jazz spent the night at the Charles Bridge Jazz Club, where the Luboš Andršt Blues Band played their last gig of 2008 and their first gig of 2009. It was a fantastic night, and we humbly thank Luboš and his band (Wimpy Tichota, Jan Holeček, Jiří Stivín jr.), and also Jiří Londin and his team at the CBJC. Your night at work was our great night out.

For all of you who couldn’t be there, here’s a taste of what you missed…

video