Monday, April 25, 2011


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)

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.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Not The End

The last year has been a time of personal and professional changes. Between buying and furnishing a new flat, and coping with reforms in the Czech education framework, I was out of time and out of energy. There's little worse than a job done badly, and so instead of watching the Prague Jazz blog limp along like a dying dog I chose to put it down: a cocktail of relief and sadness in equal measure.

The changes, fates willing, have subsided. Nobody came forward to take over the website and continue its mission of bringing detailed coverage of the Prague jazz scene to an English-speaking audience. And so the inevitable decision has been made and, from the new PJHQ penthouse on the western edge of the city, Prague Jazz will resume shortly .

The format will be slightly different from the previous incarnation, with monthly updates including album and gig reviews, video highlights, and gig recommendations. There will also be a short monthly editorial commenting on aspects of Czech jazz scene. Between these updates you can follow PJ news, comment on albums you've bought and gigs you've enjoyed, and generally chat Czech jazz on our Facebook page. If you're an enthusiastic Twit then drop me a line at @tonyemmerson.

The first update should be live on April 25th. It is good to be back. I hope you come with me for the ride...