Saturday, May 25, 2013

Jazz After The Castle

Lew Tabackin and the Emil Viklický Trio
Autoklub České Republiky

As President of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus may have irritated the environmentalists but he delighted his fellow jazz lovers by hosting monthly concerts at Prague Castle. There were 90 Jazz na Hradě concerts in all, performed in the Castle state rooms and gardens, where some of the biggest names in world jazz performed alongside the cream of the Czech scene. While lacking the closeness and informality of club gigs, these prestigious showcases demonstrated Klaus's personal commitment to the music, and the associated sponsorship allowed a Prague audience to see players who would otherwise be unlikely to drop by. They also had the advantage that even the densest of tourists understood that this was a concert, not an opportunity to talk loudly and eat crisps, and so music could occur against a blank sonic canvas, not a symphony of morons.

New President Miloš Zeman has not continued with Jazz na Hradě but the concept, the logo, some of the organisers and the man himself have relocated. Under the title of Jazzová KLAUSura, the new concert series kicked off at the Autoklub České Republiky with American flute and tenor sax maestro Lew Tabackin. He needed a band to play with, and when the Czech Republic needs a pianist you know that Emil Viklický will probably get a phone call. With Petr Dvorský on acoustic bass and Tomáš Hobzek on drums, Tabackin had a band with which he could speak the language of music even if he couldn't pronounce their surnames.

It worked. This Czech trio were able to keep up with Tabackin through his own compositions as well as the standard songbook, and while he was the star of the show he also had star quality behind him too. The originals included "Desert Lady", the title track of his 1990 album held together with evocative flute work, and the hard swinging and smile-inducing "B flat". There were a couple of superb Duke Ellington interpretations, "Self Portrait (of the Bean)" and "Sunset and the Mocking Bird", which were performed with exuberance and panache, his virtuoso improvisations stretching out far beyond the recorded originals. Stalking around, stamping the stage and generally being cool, this was ninety minutes of music that started well and got even better as the band played itself in.

Everybody got some time in the solo spotlight and nobody abused it. Hobzek is maturing into an excellent drummer, making good on the potential he showed when he was with the Organic Quartet, Dvorský is one of the must-have bass names working in the country at the moment, and Emil is Emil. As much as we love his usual concerts it is always interesting to see a musician you know well doing something completely different, and it is unusual to see him in the role of sideman. He provided sophisticated but unselfish accompaniment, listening and responding to Tabackin, and that connection made the show so much more than just a star and some hired hands.

The Autoklub is smaller than the halls of Prague Castle, but what is lost in swank is gained in intimacy. Klaus had a smaller entourage and he was happily talking to people before and after the music. The lone protection officer stayed out of the way, enjoying his earpiece and radio, and while there were still some VIPs they were there for the music rather than to be seen and photographed. The machinery around Jazzová KLAUSura is just starting up. Hopefully there will be a web page soon, and a bit more promotion. It would have been easy for Klaus and the organisers to look back at almost a hundred Castle gigs and decide that it was time for the music to stop. Jazz enthusiasts in Prague should be happy that this did not happen, and although the new setting is less glamorous it may well turn out to provide an even better experience for the true music fan.

Concert for Milan Peroutka

I am normally happy to promote gigs, but this one is a sad occasion. Drummer Milan Peroutka, perhaps best known for his work with Czech rock band Olympic, also played with jazz-rock outfit Q-Rats. He died on May 4th, and Robin Finesilver and the remaining Q-Rats will be playing a tribute concert for their friend in June.

Details of the concert can be found here.