Review: Emil Viklický Trio at The Spice of Life

Emil Viklický Trio at the Spice of Life, October 2013
Photo credit: Czech Centre London

Emil Viklický Trio 
(Spice of Life, 31st October 2013. Review by Chris Parker) 

If a crucial element in the shifting of jazz’s centre of gravity eastwards in the last couple of decades has been the revivifying predilection of European musicians for incorporating indigenous elements into their music, then Emil Viklický could reasonably be regarded as something of a pioneer.

Like, say, Jan Garbarek, Gianluigi Trovesi or John Surman, the Czech pianist is at once firmly rooted in his country’s folk and classical tradition (personified by Moravian composer Leoš Janáček ) and steeped in jazz history from Duke Ellington and Earl Hines to John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner.

Appearing with a snappy, bristlingly energetic young rhythm section, Viklický began proceedings by rollicking through a section of his extended work Homage to Joan Miró, ‘Adventure in Black and Yellow’, his sparkling but powerful piano driven by the crackling, robust drumming of Tomáš Hobzek and the deft propulsiveness of bassist Petr Dvorský.

Thus warmed up, the trio then began to mine the Moravian folksong mother lode: ‘Ah Love’ saw them decorate a characteristically limpid, melancholy-laced theme with fleet solos and a bluesy climax; ‘Aspen Leaf’ featured more lucid piano tinged with controlled rumbustiousness; a Janáček aria from his opera Jenůfa received a sensitive but increasingly urgent treatment complete with bluesy touches and dazzling double-time runs.

Concluding the first set with his customary crowd-pleaser ‘Vinko, Vinko’ [Wine, Oh Wine], a rousing, suitably intoxicating rush of collective interaction centred on a superb drum solo, Viklický’s tight trio once again proved themselves masters of dynamic control, precisely calibrating the band’s energy levels to suit their highly individual material.

After such concentration on Moravian sources, it was almost a shock to hear Viklický begin his second set with the Arnheim/Daniels/Tobias standard, ‘Sweet and Lovely’, but he swiftly reverted to folk roots with ‘Moon in the Cradle’ and ‘Highlands, Lowlands’, the latter flawlessly propelled by Dvorský’s whirring bass, before taking an oboe melody from a Janáček  symphony as the core of his penultimate piece and concluding with another vigorous crowd-pleaser, ‘IQ84’, from his recent album dedicated to Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore. Having received an entirely justified ovation from a decent-sized crowd, the trio then performed a section of Duke Ellington’s Queen’s Suite, ‘Sunset and the Mockingbird’, Hobzek subtly powering the poignant melody with quiet brushwork.

Such intense but subtly interactive music comes over well in such an intimate setting (SpiceJazz operates from a basement under a pub in Cambridge Circus), and so future gigs in the venue – the celebration of 15 years of promoter Paul Pace’s concerts at a party on 6 November (featuring Brandon Allen and Anton Browne) and another Czech Centre gig involving Points Quartet on 21 November (part of the LJF) – are appetising prospects indeed.

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