“The playing on this album bristles with musical language and techniques drawn from lifelong studies and experience of performance on their respective instruments.”
I confess to ignorance of Emil Viklický’s music prior to hearing this recording. It was a gap in my awareness explained by the fact of living in Australia and being preoccupied with musical events in parts of the world other than Europe. After a search of various streaming sites, I discovered a wealth of his recordings dating from 1980 until now. These sites do not include much information about Wangaratta, but I assume the compositions on the recording were written predominantly by Viklický, a native of the Czech Republic. His Wikipedia entry declares that in composition he has created ‘a synthesis of the expressive elements of modern jazz with the melodicism and tonalities of Moravian folk song that is distinctly individual in contemporary jazz’. Judging from the contents of Wangaratta, this seems an adequate description of his music. In addition, he has produced scores for films and has played with many jazz giants in various parts of the world. The trumpeter on this recording is Miroslav Bukovský who was also born in the Czech Republic but migrated to Australia in 1968 after the invasion of Czechoslovakia. He has become one of our most highly regarded jazz musicians through his performances in bands such as Wanderlust and Ten Part Invention and his work in education.
The music on this album was recorded in 2018 in the wonderfully ambient church that serves as one of the venues at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues. Viklický’s collaborators here are two of this country’s most esteemed performers, both of whom are involved in jazz education at ANU’s School of Music.
The album’s musical highlights abound since the quality of the performance never sags. The bar is kept high throughout. The opening track, titled Love, Oh Love, is a folk-like melody in triple meter with a haunting quality that is exploited well by all three soloists. Viklický’s piano technique displays a ‘clean’ attack and an assured knowledge of the idiom being explored. This impression is confirmed by his piano introduction to the next tune titled Delicatessence and credited to Bukovský in The Australian Jazz Real Book. Another triple meter modal work, Bukovský and Mackey play improvised solos that demonstrate why they are considered at the forefront of their respective crafts. Their playing bristles with musical language and techniques drawn from lifelong studies and experience of performance on their instruments.
Every composition recorded is ‘strong’ in the sense that it possesses a memorable melody and chord changes that provide ample inspiration to the improvisers. In addition, the pieces are formally satisfying with well-rounded structures. These characteristics are obvious from the first acquaintance with the music; the effect was immediate. Repeated playings only intensified the feeling that I was hearing tunes that would become ‘old friends’. All three performers are strong melodic improvisers with long careers as performers to sustain them. Bukovský and Mackey obviously enjoyed the support they received from Viklický’s assured, clean attack and fresh accompanying riffs throughout the performance. It is difficult to imagine a happier meeting of artists at the top of their games.
The medium ballad, Gray Pigeon confirms the impressions gained from the previously mentioned tracks. It has an attractive melody and a harmonic progression that invites these improvisers to generate delightful solos. The piano solo is especially enjoyable, even though I began to hear some clichés in Viklický’s improvising. He uses them sparingly and logically so notes always fall into place in the overall flow.
Of the remaining tracks, MDD is another haunting medium/slow tempo tune that draws nice solos from the saxophonist and the pianist. Up in a Fir Tree has a ‘bluesy’ quality that Viklický exploits in his solo, while Highlands, Lowlands is a rollicking piece that also elicits good solos.
My reaction to this album, that I think is only available in downloadable format, is overwhelmingly positive. I cannot wait to be able to return to Wangaratta for next year’s festival to be able to hear groups of this quality in acoustic spaces such as the church. How fortunate are we to have a festival that is capable of providing opportunities to hear playing of this calibre?