Libor Smoldas is one of the best jazz guitarists the Czech Republic has produced in recent years. He plays extremely fluent, straight ahead music in the Jim Hall
tradition, with overtones of Kenny Burrell
. He is more relaxed, less intense than his contemporary, David Doruzka, best known of the current crop of Czech jazz guitarists. Smoldas smiles a lot when he plays.
On graduating from the Janacek Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno, unlike Doruzka, he chose not to take up an offer to continue his studies at Berklee College of Music in Boston and instead has sought to broaden his musical horizons in working collaborations with American musicians.
One of these is alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, who is fond of recalling something his former boss, Art Blakey
said to students at the University of Miami: "He said, 'You come here to get your diploma
, you come with me to get your education
As a child, playing around with his first guitar, Smoldas found himself attracted to both Muddy Waters
and Charlie Parker
. "I eventually tried to reproduce this kind of music on guitar." The mind boggles! Today he names the soulful American guitarist Peter Bernstein as a major influence.
Libor Smoldas Quartet & Bobby Watson Intuition New Port Line
Smoldas first met Watson at the Western Carolina University jazz festival in 2011. He invited him to sit in with his quartet and in memory of Art Blakey, they played "Moanin.'" Since then Watson has toured with the quartet.
With Smoldas hailing it as "a long-term project that enriches and delights us all," the collaboration seems set to continue for the foreseeable future. Which is all to the good if Intuition
is anything to go byit's an excellent album.
The opener, "Mike's Song," which Smoldas wrote for his son, Misha, is the stand-out track. Based on a very catchy and deceptively simple melody in 5/4 time, the ensemble passages feature attractive interplay between the two principals. Elsewhere Watson maintains a low profile, with solos given over to Smoldas, bassist Josef Feco and the formidable Petr Benes on keyboards.
But the saxophonist puts his stamp firmly on the next number, his own composition, "In Case You Missed It," penned for the 1991 album Post Motown Bop
by his band, Horizon. Smoldas describes it thus: "It's energetic, playful, joyful music that brilliantly reflects Bobby's character." Watson's second solo is a gem.
"Off The Playground" is a funky piece written by Smoldas, who puts in some understated but highly interesting work. Watson does only as much as necessary, but his alto adds a whole new dimension to the ensemble passages.
He is given his head on Benes' "5.15 In The Morning," a rambling, yet strangely successful composition. Smoldas' "Ferry Tale" (ouch!) was inspired by New York City's South Ferry, linking Manhattan with Staten Island. It's pithy and soulful, written with the Messengers in mind.
Watson's "Side Steps" makes use of the form and harmony of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," while "Twists And Turns" has touches of fusion about it and includes a fine, muscular solo by Watson.
The whole album is warmly recommended.
Smoldas Nussbaum Anderson Dreamtime Self Produced
Smoldas' second American collaboration is simply not in the same league as "Intuition." He teams up with Californian bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Adam Nussbaum from Connecticut. Both have excellent track records, Anderson with Woody Herman
and Carmen McRae
, Nussbaum with Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Gil Evans
and Carla Bley
Things kick off promisingly with a lovely, laidback treatment of "Moon River," written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer for the 1961 Audrey Hepburn movie "Breakfast At Tiffany's." Smoldas succeeds in resuscitating a song that has died a thousand, if not a million schmaltz-laden cocktail bar deaths.
The novelty soon wears off. After "Moon River" it's more of the same and the same and the same: lush ballad follows lush ballad, all beautifully played but ultimately yawn inducing. The proceedings cry out for a change in tempo but it doesn't come. Delete that first "m" in the title, substitute "r."
The album almost grinds to a halt with the penultimate number, a reworking of Lennon and McCartney's soporific "The Long And Winding Road," penned as The Beatles neared the end of the line.
Even Hoagy Carmichael
's "I Get Along Without You Very Well" can't lift things, despite Smoldas' clever invocation of the composer's greatest hit, "Georgia," in the opening bars.
Nice playing blighted by poor programming.
Tracks and Personnel Intuition
Tracks: Mike's Song; In Case You Missed It; Off The Playground; 5.15 In The Morning; Ferry Tale; Letter Home; Side Steps; Twists And Turns.
Personnel: Bobby Watson: alto saxophone; Libor Smoldas: guitar; Josef Feco: bass; Petr Benes: keyboards; Tomas Hobzek: drums. Dreamtime
Tracks: Moon River; Folks Who Live On The Hill; Caroline I See You; Beautiful Love; Theme From The Godfather; Isfahan; The Long And Winding Road; I Get Along Without You Very Well.
Personnel: Libor Smoldas: guitar; Jay Anderson: bass; Adam Nussbaum: drums.