Sometimes plenty can happen in three years; sometimes plenty can happen in a matter of days. When Jan Hammer recorded Maliny Maliny
at a club in Munich on August 30, 1968, the keyboardist had no idea that, in three short years he'd be at the top of the jazz heap as founding member of one of fusion's most significant groups, guitarist John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. He did know, within 30 days of this live recordingwhen the young Czechoslovakian moved to the United States in September, 1968 to study at Boston's Berklee College of Musicthat he'd never return to either his home country or Germany, which was a brief intermediary home between leaving Czechoslovakia and heading for America.
Another of Promising Music's wonderfully packaged and carefully remastered reissues of the German MPS catalog, Maliny Maliny proves that even the most progressive players have to have roots. While the high volume, high velocity music of Mahavishnu Orchestra seemed to have little to do with the jazz tradition, Maliny Maliny's seven Hammer compositions are planted firmly in the mainstream, a far cry from what is wrongly considered to be his debut as a leader, the synth-laden concept album The First Seven Days (Columbia/Legacy, 1975).
Still, while Maliny Maliny is a decidedly straight-ahead set with Hammeron piano and organably supported by bassist George Mraz and drummer Cees See, there's certainly no shortage of the kind of virtuosity that would make him a hugely influential keyboardist just a few short years later. "Goat's Song" is an up-tempo swinger, featuring some fiery organ work from Hammer, while "Make Love" is a piano-led piece of soul-jazz blues that references Joe Zawinulanother Eastern European keyboardist who'd already made the leap to the United States and, by this time, was already enjoying no small amount of acclaim for his work with Cannonball Adderley.
Mraz would also go onto greater acclaim as the supple bassist for everyone from John Scofield and John Abercrombie to Herbie Hancock and Jim Hall, moving to the US the same year as Hammer. Incorrectly credited as playing electric bass here, his sonorous arco solo on "Goat's Song" is an early sign of greater things to come, while his pizzicato work on Hammer's modal piano excursion, "Braching," is equally impressive. Seewho was also working with Klaus Doldinger and Volker Kriegel around this timeis the least-known of the three yet proves a capable, if not overly distinctive, player on this date.
At twenty it's not surprising that traces of Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock can be heard in Hammer's playing. Still, the European classicism that imbues Hammer's balladic title track is all his, with equal traces of Czech folk music in its plaintive melody.
Maliny Maliny is an opportunity to hear Hammer before superstardom would turn him into a fusion hero; a mainstream album that makes it clear even the most distinctive artists have to come from somewhere.