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George Mraz / Iva Bittova: Moravian Gems

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Over some twenty years of recording, the Czech violinist and singer Iva Bittova has done folk, classical and new music, recording with guitarist Fred Frith among others. What she hadn't done, by her own admission, was venture into jazz.

That changed when she began working with her countryman, bassist George Mraz. Mraz worked with both the Stan Getz quartet and Czech pianist Emil Viklicky in the 1970s, and has continued to be a sought-after player in the decades since. In 1997, Mraz and Viklicky's paths crossed again and they started planning an album of interpretations of music from the Southern Moravia region of their homeland. Vickily suggested Bittova—a charismatic performer known as much for her acting as her music in the Czech Republic—and with drummer Laco Tropp they began to formulate the remarkable blend of jazz and folk music on Moravian Gems.

Without a horn in the lineup, the band's playing is soft and smooth and at least a little reminiscent of Getz's Cuban experiments. Nobody pushes the music too firmly into either jazz or Czech folds. The songs are just what they are: models for improvisation, if with a bit of a Bill Evans tinge. The project works and works well, because of the players' deep familiarity with both sides of the equation. They play both the traditional melodies and the jazz voicings with heart. And Bittova is a sensitive enough collaborator that she responds to the jazzy mode of the proceedings. Moravian Gems is as much steeped in American as Czech music and is satisfying from both angles.

Track Listing: Destiny; Austerlitz; Oh Love Love; Pennyroyal; A Little Bird's Flown Over; Walking From Peszt; Sinfonietta; Dying of Love; Little Apple; In The Town Of Olomouc; Fetching Water; Sweet Basil; A Little Wreath; Gossip.

Personnel: George Mraz: bass; Iva Bittova: vocals, violin; Emil Viklicky: piano; Laco Tropp: drums.

Title: Moravian Gems | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Cube-Metier

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