JazzFest Brno, Czech Republic 2003
The second annual JazzFest Brno opened with Czech double bassist Jaromir Honzak and his international quintet. The program was comprised of compositions from his current album Present Past, which also was christened during the concert. In his group concept Honzak emphasizes harmony and playing with atmosphere. His music lacks strict jazz timing and its rhythmic contours are very foggy. In this respect his playing was sympathetic with drummer Lukasz Zyta and pianist Michal Tokaj, whose collective performance resembled a painter quietly putting on layers of tones to complete a picture in sound. For that matter, they are Polish, and Polish jazz is world famous just for that kind of sound. Quiet waves of sound were interrupted only by Polish post-bop saxophonist Piotr Baron and guitarist Christian Rover, who can't deny inspiration from John Scofield's style of playing. Sophisticated harmonies, long intensifying spaces, decomposing emotions, profound empathy - these are the moments which characterize a high quality performance of the Honzak Quintet. And, as a tribute to the jazz tradition, they chose “On Green Dolphin Street” for their encore, swinging with pleasure.
Thursday night was reserved for Slovak bass guitar king Juraj Griglak and his project, the Bass Friends. The current members include guitarist Matus Jakabcic (who also contributed to the album of the same name), violinist Stano Paluch, and drummer Peter Solarik. Griglak skillfully rearranged the compositions from the CD so that they did not lose integrity, even though he had to omit the brass section and rich washes of keyboard. They were replaced by Jakabcic's guitar synth. Stano Paluch perfectly simulated the guitar funk grooves using a wah-wah pedal. In talking about Paluch I cannot help but add that he is a talent which the Slovak jazz scene has long been awaiting - a technically flawless violinist, improvisationally inventive, stylistically inclusive (from bop to fusion). A welcome surprise for me was drummer Peter Solatik, whom I have known as a swinging member of the group Nothing But Swing, but this time he proved that funk presents no problem for him. Griglak's grooves are still incredibly fast, amazingly catchy and very energetic. Bass Friends literally brought the Fleda club down with their musically inventive jazz-funk show.
Friday's program started in the afternoon, which influenced its attendance. Those who didn't make the performance missed one of the best shows of the festival - the Milos Suchomel Quartet, a combo composed of the most outstanding musicians of the young (Czecho)Slovak jazz generation. The leader of the group, saxophonist Milos Suchomel, is definitely not an introverted player. His solos were literally eruptions of tones, full of energy and emotion, delivered with his typical ironic casualness. The resemblance to Sonny Rollins could hardly be ignored. Another group member, Ondrej Krajniak, is a prototypical mainstream pianist. He bases his style on the synthesis of the pillars of the jazz piano art, from Oscar Peterson to McCoy Tyner. His playing is full of exciting tension. Czech bassist Robert Balzar, whose name is a virtual guarantee of extraordinary playing, took care of the bass line. Drummer Marian Sevcik, who nowadays is also a highly sought after sideman, provided a stable drive and necessary intensification. Such a modern mainstream jazz group with riveting post bop rides would definitely stand out more in front of a full house, a fact which was later confirmed to me by Suchomel himself, even though the performance still bore an export quality label.
The evening program belonged to Miriam Bayle, a Slovak singer who is a part of the Prague jazz scene. Miriam performed during the first year of the JazzFest, which may have influenced the fact that she was given another opportunity to perform this year. In the interim she changed her group and enriched its sound by inviting a tenor saxphonist, but that was the only significant change. Everything else stayed the same - jazz standards in a conservative straight-ahead interpretation, playful collaboration within a group framework, positive emotions and joy – transmitted beautifully to the audience (this time a full auditorium). Arguably the best piece of the night was the Parker's "Donna Lee," which Miriam scatted at a breakneck tempo that even saxophonist Radek Zapadlo could hardly follow.