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Robert Balzar Trio: Travelling

AAJ Staff By

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Robert Balzar may be in the Czech Republic, but his music has traveled far. This album comes endorse by George Mraz, he’s playe with Joe Newman and Tony Scott; he and pianist Stanislav Macha even played with Bill Clinton on his 1994 album The Pres Blows. This is his first as a leader, and it shows beautiful solos and a solid trio. You can go far from your own backyard.

“The Patriot” is a bouncy theme, based on “Fried Bananas”. Marek Patrman has heavy brushes and uses well the studio echo. Macha uses chords on the theme and spaces out on the the solom developing little themes and varying them endlessly as the drums pound harder. Balzar’s solo states theme and varies as Macha did – only faster! His style is halfway between modern slide and old-fashioned walkin’, and he does both here. Wait for Macha’s signoff –it’s lush, and very charming.

“Ginetta” is a slow ballad with more of thse bright chords. For thirty seconds it’s piano and bass, and Balzar keeps time with a LaFaro sound – old and new together. The brushes come in, and the shimmer is delightful. When Balzar solos it’s piano and bass again: Macha steps lightly behind Robert’s big sound, all bounce and slide. The tenderness returns and so do the drums in a very warm finish. It’s a basic ballad, but the performance isn’t!

Balzar gets the theme to “Thanks to Isidor” – the fast tempo is no problem for him. It’s a bop line with progressively deepening blues. Macha chords sour a while, then gets lush, with the tinest hint of Red Garland. Balzar is strictly old school, and it works like a charm. When he goes high, it’s not like a modern bassist, but Oscar Pettiford playing the cello! Patrman has a cymbal solo – well, that’s what it sounds like! It’s simple, tough, and bluesy – I like it.

“Travelling” starts like a Bill Evans waltz: tempo lagging, medi tation on certain notes. Balzar’s tiny first solo has a debt to LaFaro, as you’d expect. Then it goes active: Balzar finds a great walking line, Macha jabbing the keys with a rhythmic feel. The theme returns with more vigor, and Macha is romantic, dancing gracefully over the splashy drums. The “tough” theme comes back while Macha waltzes; it makes him sound more beautiful. Near the end he blossoms again: McCoy Tyner for four thrilling bars. Balzar’s second solo, done mostly to the “tough” theme, is all string snaps and low rumbles; his first bit was better. It leads to Patrman’s solo, which includes everything but boredom. Then the waltz returns, and we have gone a long way.

“Wintertime” is a stroll in the park; Macha has a old strut while Balzar walks deep. His solo gets a few slides, but mostly it’s the good old feel – and it feels right. “B.E.” is leisurely, introspective, and dedicated to the possessor of the initials. As Macha hinted at Evans earlier, the task is a snap for him; there’s also a spot of blue and a few Garland chords. Balzar’s solo is out of the Trio’s playbook, and Macha chords nicely behind him.

“Willy Nilly” starts with great brushes and a unison theme by piano and bow. Balzar’s tone is mostly classical, with a trace of the Paul Chambers grainy sound. He has fun with the boppish line, bowing it fast and drawling a little. He then plucks up a walk for Macha’s gentility. No contest; this was Robert’s from the beginning. There’s also “For Your Sound”, nearly two minutes of unaccompanied Balzar. It’s deep musing, full of technique and grace. That’s how I describe the album – that and warmth, variety, and charm.

Title: Travelling | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Jazzpoint Records


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