28 September 2009

Another night in Praha

Prague is full of jazz, and I’m enjoying it, amongst other aspects of this town. The daytime touristing to the massive castle that overlooks Prague was interrupted by preparations for the visit of the Pope the next day. It’s presumably an attempt to convert this least Christian of European nations, and perhaps to assist the current legal action is seeking to transfer ownership of St Vitus cathedral from the Czech Republic to the Church. All interesting, but it didn’t seem to upset the jazz scene. The Bridge Jazz Band was there again, but with different membership. I’ve seen it three times with different lineups each time. And I caught a pic of a trad jazz band in a local hotel (there’s plenty of trad here, too). I was sorely tempted by a German electonica-jazz trio but opted to avoid the long walk and to hear another modern piano trio at the local USP Jazz Club.

The Metej Benko Trio commenced with Solar with an obvious head-solos-head arrangement. The second tune was an original called Enrico’s story telling. This was more romantic and mellifluous and Euro-sounding although with a latin bass line. Matej started each tune with a solo passage and the game of guessing the tune early. Next had hints of Coltrane changes amongst a mix of stride and other piano styles. And so it was, Giant steps. With grimaces and concentration and final smiles on the musos’ faces. Next up was Body and soul done straight as a lovely ballad. I’m enjoying the variations in tempo and style, and the fluency and elegant substitutions of the pianist, although just a bit uncomfortable with the B&S bass solo which seemed out of place in the ballad. But, the second set saw the band get into stride (excuse the pun) and I’m thinking Bill Evans fluency and improvisational approach with a responsive and free-flowing bass and drum accompaniment. By this time, the bass solos are more apt, more suited to the tunes, ranging widely with tenuous links to the structure, links that decay through extended patterns and sequences then easily resolve. The drums seem in touch, alive although not overly subtle in style. This is not the cool and disciplined outfit I’d caught a few days earlier at Agartha. There were older, more rough and ready, but still committed and educated. This is a late night jazz at a reasonable hour. I also felt that about the venue. There was chatter and smoke, which is uncomfortable for our non-smoking Australian habits, and some seduction. But the drinks menu was interesting, and there’s someone to serve you at your table. That part I liked. And the music.

The show continued in this way, and I was enjoying the playing more and more. Mostly standards but with an occasional original tune. Kenny Wheeler’s Everybody’s songs but my own, an original in 7/4 called Universality, Softly as a morning sunrise, a latin. I popped out in the break to visit the show at Agartha (just in the next street). There was a fusion outfit playing, but these were young and less experienced, so I returned for Whisper not and My one and only love. Then it ended and out into streets. People milling around to get home, but I’m staying in the centre and I know there will be drunken shouts throughout the night. This is a lively city, and no less for jazz. I enjoyed my Bill Evans experience immensely and will miss this great little jazz town. Matej Benko (piano) led a trio with Rastŏ Uhrīk (bass) and Pavel “Bady” (=Buddy as in Rich) Zborĭl (drums) at the USP Jazz Club in Prague.

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