Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rene Trossman & Deitra Farr

Prague's very own Chicago Bluesman, Rene Trossman, will be joined by acclaimed Chicago Blues singer Deitra Farr for some very special gigs in March. They will play at the Palác Akropolis in Prague on 18/3, as well as in Šumperk on 12/3 and in Ústí nad Labem on 16/3.

Deitra is the real deal, as for that matter is Rene. Come along and enjoy authentic Chicago Blues without the hassle of transatlantic flight!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

CD Review: Little Things

Jaromír Honzák Quintet
Animal Music / ANI013-2, 2009

Jaromír Honzák is arguably one of the overlooked stars of Czech jazz. When thinking of bassists or bandleaders his name rarely springs to the top of the pile, and yet there is no reason why it should not do so. He has put out five albums in his own name and he has regularly appeared on recordings by the Eben Brothers, Karel Růžička, Pavla Milcová and Iva Bittová. He studied at Berklee in 1989 and subsequently won several awards. He teaches in both Prague and Brno, and as well as doing session work he currently fronts two outfits: his more conventional Quartet/Quintet and the more modern Face Of The Bass. A busy guy then, and certainly worthy of recognition.

Little Things is the latest album from the Jaromír Honzák Quintet, released by Animal Music in 2009. His usual Quartet includes the two Poles Michal Tokaj (piano and Fender Rhodes) and Lukasz Zyta (drums), and the young Czech guitar star David Dorůžka. Here they are joined by American Chris Cheek on saxophones who, like Honzák and Dorůžka, also attended Berklee.

“Little Things” (J. Honzák) opens the album with a lilting piano introduction, underpinned by tinkling percussion, before bass and sax step in to fill out the sound. Although it is the latter that defines the shape there is a strong sense of melody in Honzák's playing. He is a measured and mature operator of his instrument. When he solos his fingers are capable of working into a fine flurry but still there is room within the phrasing for the music to breathe. Indeed the whole album has a strong organic feel about it, as if it was grown rather than recorded. Cheek dances around the top end, hitting a pleasing crescendo before the ensemble finishes off.

“The Cue” (J. Honzák) is a groovier track, with bubbling bass in the background that reflects Honzák's interest in modern forms of music. Complex rhythms and handclaps rattle away while the first solo is taken on Fender Rhodes, the second on sax. This most iconic of the electric pianos seems to be making a comeback in Czech jazz: the instrument used on Little Things was on loan from Beata Hlavenková! Dorůžka finally wakes up on this track, throwing in a clean, electric solo. It's a sweet sound, as opposed to a dirty blues note, with good technique.

“Friendly Space” (J. Honzák) begins with assorted percussive sounds and harsh noises. From this falls piano, and from this hangs a stepped melody led by sax and underpinned by bass played in unison. The weirdness and dissonance carries on underneath, even during the long bass and saxophone solos. Coming in at almost eleven minutes this is the longest track on the album but it is time well spent. The title is ironic. The space is uneasy rather than friendly, and you are thoroughly urged to listen to this track through headphones in total darkness.

“Clear” (J. Honzák) is a positive affair containing some pleasant electric guitar strumming and also a neat solo from Dorůžka. Zyta cuts loose towards the end. His presence on the album is more about subtlety than the wild stuff.

“Song for Albert” (D. Dorůžka) is the only composition on the album not written and arranged by the bassist. Dorůžka again takes a purposeful excursion during his solo spot. There is no doubting his ability but he is always so controlled, almost infuriatingly so. As good as his contributions are, and they are indeed good, it would be interesting to hear him really let rip like a maniac.

“Bystander's Story” (J. Honzák) features bowed bass and moody sax over choppy drums. The result is disjointed and a touch experimental while still being listenable. In contrast “Faraway” (J. Honzák) is a dreamy elegy of a piece, dripping in warmth and beauty.

The final track should win some sort of award for its title alone: “The Blues Of A String Hanging In The Wind” (J. Honzák). The string(s) in question appear to be the PKF String Quartet led by David Danel on 1st violin, and this piece is not what you might first expect. Solo piano explodes into a world of violent stabs and high tension, interspersed with mournful legato passages. The strings are fully integrated into the sound and not merely used as a backdrop. Cheek emerges and soars above before strings pick up and play out.

Little Things is a relatively short album, coming in at just over fifty minutes. Being honest there aren't many CD-filling recordings that contain more than fifty minutes of the really good stuff, and that is what we have here. Fifty minutes of really good stuff. The traditional combines with the unorthodox to produce an experience that keeps the listener's attention. Just when you think you know what this album is about it plays a joker like “Friendly Space” or the hanging string thing. For anyone who is interested in Czech jazz, but has yet to embrace the music vision of Jaromír Honzák, Little Things could be just the place to start.

Audio samples from this album can be found here.

Monday, February 8, 2010

News: Points Album Launch

Yet another new album is appearing on the Animal Music label, this time from Points. This quartet is made up of Luboš Soukup (tenor sax), Miroslav Hloucal (trumpet), Tomáš Hobzek (drums) and Tomáš Liška (double-bass).

The album will be launched at Jazz Dock with two special concerts on 12/2 and 13/2.

News: Najponk in London

This week our readers in London have a chance to sample some genuine Prague jazz without all the expensive and tiresome travelling that it would usually entail. Pianist Najponk will be appearing at the Pizza Express Jazz Club on 9/2, and also in the afternoon at The Vortex on 14/2. He should be performing with Alec Dankworth on bass and Matt Fishwick on drums at Pizza Express, and solo at The Vortex.

Alec is the son of British jazz legend Sir John Dankworth, who sadly passed away earlier this week. He will be widely missed.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Video Selection

The snow and ice that cover Prague's streets at the moment make every trip outside an adventure, so here's three videos that you can enjoy at home without risking a trip to the hospital with broken bones.

To kick things off we have a rehearsal video from The Wall 2009, a concert in which Czech musicians recreated the legendary Pink Floyd rock show. So why feature it in Prague Jazz? First of all there is a pretty hot saxophone solo from Petr Kalfus, who is now more usually seen playing with the Infinite Quintet. Secondly, it features singer Lada Soukupová who is not only excellent but is also more than capable of delivering a jazz tune or two. Thirdly, on keyboards we have Harry (son of Roger) Waters, who is establishing a name for himself as a jazz musician in his own right.

Next up, following our review of her Joy For Joel album, we have pianist Beata Hlavenková and band. Here they are performing "The Riddle" on Czech television:

Finally, because he's very cool and that's reason enough, here's Luboš Andršt with his Blues Band playing a nice bit of Hendrix: