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Emil Viklicky: Cookin' In Bonn

Victor Verney By

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Mention the Czech Republic to American jazz fans and most would likely think of George Mraz, Miroslav Vitous or Jan Hammer. However, these three musicians would almost certainly agree that pianist Emil Vicklický is the "Patriarch of Czech jazz," a title bestowed on him by general consensus.

Without question, there remain lingering pockets of Americans who doubt, privately if not aloud, whether Europeans can really play jazz; in fairness, there are also many Europeans who believe Americans can't really play classical music. Musicians like Josef Zawinul and Dave Liebman, to name just two, have provided ample evidence that both prejudices are baseless. And while other European jazz musicians have also blended jazz and classical music in an impressively creative fashion, Vicklický has distinguished himself by his ability to intertwine a third thread—the indigenous folk music of his native Moravia and Bohemia.

Cookin' In Bonn is a live recording of a September 2004 performance at Bonn's Harmonie Club in conjunction with that year's Beethoven Festival. Appropriately, the theme that year was the influence of Maestro Ludwig on Czech musicians such as Antonin Dvorak and Leos Janacek—whom Vicklický acknowledges as his classical idols.

"Lover Come Back" (not to be confused with the similarly titled Oscar Hammerstein III tune) is good example of Vicklický's use of Moravian folk melodies that employ ancient modal scales, sometimes joyous, sometimes brooding. He points out that in this tradition, it is often "quite normal" to see the major and minor third in one song, and this tune demonstrates that lyrical sensibility.

Stylistically, Vicklický has been compared by critics to Tommy Flanagan and Bud Powell. He himself likes to point to Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans as key influences, but others have obviously informed his playing, as well. It's difficult not to think of Chick Corea during the up-tempo section of "Aspen Leaf." The opening cut's title, "Father's Blues," seems to be a nod to Horace Silver's "Song for My Father," and Vicklický's bluesy riffing here and elswhere evokes Silver's funky wit. On "Buhaina," Ray Brown's tribute to the great Art Blakey, Vicklický shows a rollicking exuberance that readily brings to mind Oscar Peterson, Brown's long-time partner.

The crowd-pleasing "Wine Oh Wine" features bassist František Uhliř soloing arco, which is something of a rarity these days. This solo also demonstrates Vicklický's ability to play behind a bass, which is altogether different than comping behind a front-line instrument, requiring close attention and a very light touch. Uhliř, whose playing is marked by crisp, clean intonation throughout, also takes the melody of "Song for Jane" arco. He makes me wish bassists would use their bows a bit more often. Drummer Laco Tropp provides tasteful timekeeping, sounding energetic without heavy-handedness.

Savvy jazz musicians like Wynton Marsalis and Keith Jarrett understand the wisdom, after taking an audience through challenging and sometimes unfamiliar material, of closing a concert with a sentimental favorite. Likewise Vicklický. Brought back for an encore, he obliges with a charming rendition of "Mona Lisa," sending his audience home humming.

Track Listing: Father's Blues; Lover Come Back; Aspen Leaf; Desire; Wine Oh Wine; Cottontail; Song For Jane; Buhaina; Mona Lisa.

Personnel: Emil Viklický: piano; František Uhliř: bass; Laco Tropp: drums.

Title: Cookin' In Bonn | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Dekkor Records


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