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Emil Viklicky & George Mraz — Together Again (2014)

 Emil Viklicky & George Mraz — Together Again

Czech Republic     Emil Viklicky & George Mraz — Together Again
°°   In-demand bassist for straight-ahead jazz dates beginning when he immigrated to the United States in 1968.
Born: September 9, 1944 in Písek, Czech Republic
°°   Since the '70s, Emil Viklicky has been among the top acoustic jazz pianists in the Czech Republic. Viklicky isn't very well-known in the United States, but in European jazz circles, he has commanded a great deal of respect and admiration.
Location: CZE/USA
Album release: March 10, 2014
German Release: 28/02/2014
Record Label: ACT Music
Cat No.: ACT 9622-2
Duration:     51:07
Tracks:
01 Dear Lover     2:48
02 Poem     6:34
03 Theme From 5th Part of Sinfonietta     5:34
04 A Bird Flew By     5:22
05 U Dunaja u Prešpurka     5:32
06 Austerlitz     3:47
07 Moon, Sleeping In A Cradle     4:09
08 Thank You, Laca     4:00
09 Up On A Fir Tree     3:21
10 I Saw Grey Pidgeon     5:07
11 In Holomóc Town     4:55
Personnel:
•   Emil Viklický: piano
•   George Mraz: acoustic bass
Recording information:
•   Produced by Siggi Loch
•   Recorded at Realistic Sound Studio by Florian Oestreicher, January 16 & 17, 2013
•   Mixed and mastered by Klaus Scheuermann
•   Cover Art (Detail) by Philip Taaffe / ACT Art Collection
Product description:
°°   Emil Viklicky, the 65 year-old 'patriarch of Czech jazz piano', as the London Evening Standard puts it, makes his ACT debut on "Together Again". Not only the best jazz pianist in the country, he is also one of the most celebrated film music composers, one of the most formative teachers, one of the most important neoclassical composers, and for a time after the fall of Communism the president of the Czech Jazz Society. It was there that he met his former countryman again, who had chosen the other path from the same starting point: the bassist four years his senior, George Mraz. Both left Czechoslovakia to study at Berklee in the USA, but unlike Viklicky, Mraz did not return after the suppression of the Prague Spring, but instead went to the US, via Germany, to launch his career. He now has credits on almost 1,000 records and CDs. A new Czech way of jazz, fresh ideas on traditional foundations and not least of all two of the most remarkable voices of jazz can be discovered on 'Together Again'. Better late than never.


REVIEW
Dave Gelly
The Observer, Sunday 9 March 2014;  Score: ****
°°   When it comes to combining jazz with European folk idioms, the Scandinavians haven't quite got the monopoly. George Mraz and Emil Viklický have been creating their beautiful blend of jazz and Moravian music for years, although this is their first purely duet album. In their hands the two idioms seem made for each other. The first of these 11 pieces could almost be a kind of blues. Mraz, long a US resident, is one of the most famous bassists in jazz, while pianist Viklický is one of the Czech Republic's top film composers. Technically, the playing is simply stupendous.
(http://www.theguardian.com/)
REVIEW
By IAN PATTERSON, Published: March 21, 2014
°°   In European jazz the assimilation of folkloric influences has become commonplace as the American vernacular — or more specifically the Great American Songbook — exerts less of a hold.
°°   Czech musicians pianist Emil Viklický and bassist George Mraz‘s collaborations on Morava (2001) — with drummer Billy Hart and singer Zuzana Lapcikova — and Moravian Gems (2007) with singer/violinist Iva Bittova and drummer Laco Tropp — explored the beauty of Moravian folk music in a jazz context. ACT Music’s Siggi Loch was so captivated that he has made it his mission to bring the music to a wider audience. Thus, Together Again sees Viklický and Mraz revisit the tunes from the two aforementioned recordings in an intimate duo setting.
°°   Together Again is undoubtedly a jazz recording, and little wonder, as both musicians have spent decades delving into the standards repertoire. Mraz made his name with pianists Oscar Peterson and Tommy Flanagan and in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. Viklický has led his own small ensembles, including a jazz-funk quartet with guitarist Bill Frisell in 1979. However, Moravian folk has been ever-present in the pianist’s music since his debut V Holomóci městě (Supraphon 1978). Viklický has also composed a significant number of classical works and it’s these threads — the swing and blues of jazz, Moravian traditional melodies, and classical sensibilities — that largely define the music.
°°   Five Viklický originals and his arrangements of six traditional tunes might suggest that this is a Viklický leader session in all but name. Still, Mraz’s deeply sonorous tone and vibrant playing is as fundamental to the chemistry as bassist Georg Riedel‘s was to pianist Jan Johansson playing on Jazz Pa Svenska, (Megafon, 1964) perhaps the most outstanding example of traditional European folk music given the jazz treatment to this day. Viklický and Graz’s light steps on two traditional tunes, the vignette “Dear Lover” and the quietly compelling “U Dunaja u Prešpurka” come closest to the chamber intimacy of that Johansson/Riedel recording,
°°   Viklický imbues 19th century Czech classical composer Zdeněk Fibich’s romantic “Poem,” with a gentle bluesy lyricism, which Mraz replicates in an extended solo. Fibich was a contemporary of Antonín Dvořák, Gustav Mahler and Leoš Janáček, the latter of whom is something of a muse for Viklický. Two of Janáček’s compositions are arranged afresh by the pianist; “Theme From 5th Part of Sinfonietta” flows with a slightly stately melodicism, while the blues-based “Thank You, Laca” is more romantic at its core. Both tunes highlight the duo’s intuitive interplay and the loose-limbed freedom in their improvisations.
°°   The blues number “A Bird Flew By” shifts subtly through the gears, moving between reflective melancholy and a more buoyant mood. “I Saw Grey Pidgeon” [sic] is a traditional tune given the blues treatment in a straight-forward yet appealing arrangement. More compelling is the harmonically arresting and rhythmically dynamic, “Austerlitz” — one of Viklický’s most strikingly original compositions. The soulful “Moon Sleeping In The Cradle,” the lightly stated classicism of “Up On A Fir Tree” and the delightful, elegant blues of “In Holomóc Town” — with fine arco work from Mraz — round out the set.
°°   Together Again is an enchanting recording of subtle charms and a fine addition to ACT’s growing Duo Art series. Doubtless for some it will serve as a reminder of Mraz’s exquisite playing and for many more as a tardy introduction to Viklický — one of Europe’s most significant and yet unheralded jazz pianists/composers. (http://www.allaboutjazz.com/)
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EMIL VIKLICKÝ
Artist Biography by Alex Henderson
°°   Since the '70s, Emil Viklicky has been among the top acoustic jazz pianists in the Czech Republic. Viklicky isn't very well-known in the United States, but in European jazz circles, he has commanded a great deal of respect and admiration. One of the reasons why Viklicky isn't better known in the U.S. is the fact that most of his albums have not come out on American labels — like so many European jazz artists, he has recorded most of his LPs and CDs for European labels. Consequently, jazz fans in countries like Sweden, France, Belgium, and Italy have had an easier time finding his releases than jazz fans in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. But that doesn't erase the fact that Viklicky is a fine musician/composer who is hard-swinging yet lyrical and melodic. A versatile, open-minded player, Viklicky can be contemplative and impressionistic when he feels like it — or, he can be exuberant and festive.
°°   Viklicky was born in Olomouc, Czech Republic on November 23, 1948. Back then, the Czech Republic was still called Czechoslovakia and — like the rest of Eastern Europe — had a centralized, Soviet-style communist government. When Viklicky was growing up, Americans referred to the pianist's country as "behind the Iron Curtain." But despite communism's well-deserved reputation for being oppressive and anti-American, the country had a jazz scene and, over the years, gave us first-class players like bassist George Mraz (who Viklicky has worked with on more than one occasion). Viklicky entered college in the late '60s, and in 1971, he graduated from Palacky University with a degree in mathematics. Even though Viklicky was living in a communist country, his situation was one that so many American artists could relate to — despite showing serious promise as a musician, he studied something practical and sensible (as opposed to creative) in college. But studying mathematics didn't prevent Viklicky from practicing and studying jazz piano night and day, and in 1974 (the year he turned 26), the improviser won a prize for best soloist at the Czechoslovak Amateur Jazz Festival. It was also in 1974 that he joined the late Czech jazzman Karel Velebny's SHQ Ensemble. Then, in 1977, Viklicky was awarded a scholarship by Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music; during his temporary stay in Boston, he studied with trumpeter Herb Pomeroy at Berklee. Since then, he has built a sizable catalog. In the '80s, his European releases included The Window (Okno) and The Door (Dvere), which united Viklicky's group with guitarist Bill Frisell; 1981's Together, an album of duets with fellow pianist James Williams; and 1988's Homage to Joan Miró — all of those albums originally came out on the Supraphon label. Then, in the '90s, Viklicky's CDs included 1990's Beyond the Mountains on Supraphon, 1991's 'Round Midnight on Arta, 1995's Food of Love on Melantrich, 1995's Lacrimosa (which was the soundtrack of the Czech film Ma Je Pomsta) on Popron, 1996's Homage to Josip Plecnik on Lotos, 1997's UV Drive on Arta, 1998's Duets on Lotos, and 1998's Neuro on Gallup Music. In 2001, the veteran pianist was featured extensively on George Mraz's superb Milestone/Fantasy release Morava, which boasts an adventurous blend of jazz and traditional Moravian folk. During his long career, Viklicky has witnessed a lot of political changes in the Czech Republic. He has long since moved back to that country, and in a post-communist Czech Republic, he served as president of the Czech Jazz Society from 1991-1995. It was in 1994 that Viklicky started playing with Ad lib Moravia, an ensemble that, like the musicians on Mraz's Morava, blends jazz and Moravian folk. In 2002, the Arta label released Viklicky's 01, a live trio date that was recorded the previous year.
Website: http://viklicky.com/
Label: https://www.actmusic.com/                                                                                                           // °°   A little while ago, the British "Guardian" wrote that ACT was on a mission to sign the best European pianists to its label. Creative virtuosos like Yaron Herman, Leszek Mozdzer and Gwilym Simcock bear witness to the fact that these pianists do not have to come from Scandinavia. And that they don't have to be young is now proven by the Emil Viklicky ACT debut "Together Again". The 65 year-old Czech national has perhaps stayed too down-to-earth for us to have discovered him earlier for what he is: the "patriarch of Czech jazz piano", as the London Evening Standard put it. And "one of the best contemporary pianists, whose touch, voicing and chords have a lot in common with the grand masters of taste the likes of Tommy Flanagan and Jimmy Rowles," as the American periodical Jazz Time wrote of him in 2004.
°°   Raised in a musical family in Olmütz, Viklicky first studied mathematics, culminating in an excellent degree, but parallel to that he discovered jazz and practiced so much that he was voted Best Soloist at the Czech Amateur Jazz Festival in 1974. Immediately after, Karel Velebny recruited him for his SHQ Ensemble, which was probably the best-known jazz band in Czechoslovakia. Viklicky won more prizes and ultimately a scholarship to study composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. So it was that he spent five years in the American system: "I learned everything you need to know there: the fundamentals of composition and arrangement, but also what it takes to succeed as a professional musician," he recalls.
°°   Back in Prague he reaped the benefit of that: Viklicky was not only the best jazz pianists in the country, he was also one of the most celebrated film music composers, one of the most formative teachers, one of the most important neoclassical composers, and for a time after the fall of Communism the president of the Czech Jazz Society. It was there that he met his former countryman again, who had chosen the other path from the same starting point: the bassist four years his senior, George Mraz. Like Viklicky, Mraz also gained his first professional experience with Karel Velebny.
°°   Before Viklicky he had also studied in Berklee, and then lived a year in Munich. But unlike Viklicky, Mraz did not return to Czechoslovakia after the suppression of the Prague Spring, but instead went to the US to launch his career. He has credits on almost 1,000 records and CDs. There is as good as no big name in jazz that he hasn't made music with. The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Stan Getz, Tommy Flanagan and Richie Beirach (with whom he also recorded three albums for ACT) were his most important regular partners.
°°   "George plays the bass like he invented it. He always plays exactly the note you want to hear," said pianist Beirach about him once. Just as significant is that Mraz initially learned violin and alto saxophone: probably the reason why he is possibly the best exponents of the bow in jazz. And he has a strong lyrical streak, which is also capable of going on the offensive, and an unmistakable vibrato.
°°   It is no wonder that after ten years with Tommy Flanagan, Mraz ended up with Viklicky just a few years later. They had already met in 1976 at a festival in Yugoslavia. °°   Then, in 1997 they more or less inevitably found their way back to each other, since both of them had the same idea: to transfer the Moravian folk music they had grown up with into jazz. It may surprise some people here, but parallel to the folk music crusade in jazz that started out from Scandinavia to conquer the world, the same occurred in the Czech Republic with "Moravia" in 2002 and "Moravian Gems" in 2007 – although brought out on Milestone in the USA, and not reaching a particularly large audience.
°°   But this captivating, imaginative music played by two extraordinary musicians is simply too good to fade into oblivion, thought Siggi Loch. And rightly so, as a track like "Austerlitz" proves: especially the harmonic alterations are quite without comparison, "which is due to the modal character of southern Moravian folk music," as Viklicky explains. And so it is that ballads like "Dear Lover", "Javorina", "Moon and Sleeping In The Cradle" sound like Randy Newman or Ray Charles numbers gone Slavic by means of delicate chromatics, trills and acciaccatura. The European and American classical influence can be heard perfectly, for example on "In Holomóc Town": after the expressionistic, bowed bass introduction comes a veritable lesson in swinging post-bop.
°°   And in Leoš Janáček's "Theme From 5th Part Of Sinfonietta", another special feature of this recording can be discovered. Originally, Viklicky had arranged his old and new compositions for a trio, just as he had for the earlier recordings. But while practicing alone with George Mraz in Munich, the two noticed that it sounded good without a drummer too. More than that: when listening to "Together Again" played by a duet, it is difficult to imagine how Viklicky's inimitable playing style, with legato and staccato, could be presented better.
°°   A new Czech way of jazz, fresh ideas on traditional foundations and no least of all two of the most remarkable voices of jazz can be discovered on "Together Again". Better late than never.
(http://www.challengerecords.com/)
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Emil Viklicky & George Mraz — Together Again (2014)

 

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