Monday, January 31, 2011

George Mraz - Morava

George Mraz - bass;
Emil Viklicky - piano;
Zuzana Lapcikova - vocals, cymbalom;
Billy Hart - drums;


01. Aspen Leaf (Na Osicce) [05:48]
02. Oh, Mountain (Ej, hora, hora) [04:42]
03. Gray Pigeon (Videla jsem meho holubka siveho) [04:51
04. Up in a Fir Tree (Na kosatej jedli) [03:45]
05. Myjava [06:17]
06. She Walks in a Meadow (Chodila po roli) [04:55]
07. Little Black Swallow (Lastovenka, cerny ptak) [02:46]
08. Desire (Touha) [04:54]
09. Wine, Oh Wine (Vink, Vinko) [06:37]
10. Gray Falcon (Zalet sokol, sivy ptak) [02:05]
11. The Sun Goes Down (Slunecko sa nizi) [06:17]
12. Jurenko, Jurenko [03:51]

Recorded at The Studio, NYC on June 09-11,2000

Although George Mraz is listed as the leader here, the session really belongs to pianist-arranger Emil Viklicky and vocalist-cymbalomist Zuzana Lapcikova. These are songs based on or inspired by Moravian (eastern Czech) folk music. But this music is given a definite jazz spin by Viklicky's outstanding arrangements and the solid rhythm section of Mraz and drummer Billy Hart.
Lapcikova has a beautiful, somewhat plaintive voice that sounds like it would also do well with more traditional settings of this music. Here she's backed by an empathetic jazz trio, and it works. This reminds me a lot of John Taylor and Norma Winstone's Azimuth project, maybe with Miroslav Vitous subbing for Kenny Wheeler. Viklicky is an accomplished pianist, handling a range of material from sensitive ballads to up-tempo swingers, although the average tempo seems to be somewhere around medium to medium-slow. The occasional appearances by Lepcikova's cymbalom add a strange and interesting tinge to a familiar sound-world. There aren't any real avant-garde elements here, but the combination of ingredients adds up to an unusual and delightful CD. - Joe Grossman


In the 20th century, jazz artists were influenced by a wide variety of world music everything from Brazilian samba (Stan Getz) to Middle Eastern and Indian music (John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef) to Swedish folk (Jan Johansson). Jazz/world fusion still offers endless possibilities; regrettably, too many of hard bop's unimaginative "Young Lions" are too busy playing the same old Tin Pan Alley standards the same old way to try anything new. But if you're seeking something fresh from jazz, George Mraz's Morava is well worth exploring. Recorded in 2000, this gem finds the Czech bassist successfully combining jazz with traditional Moravian folk. Some of the songs are instrumental, but most of them feature Czech singer Zuzana Lapcíková -- a soulful, charming artist who is also known for playing the cymbalom (a dulcimer that is used in Eastern Europe). All of the lyrics are in Czech, although Milestone/Fantasy provides English translations. It isn't every day that you hear Czech lyrics and jazz rhythms at the same time, but the two prove to be quite compatible. Morava isn't the first example of a jazz artist looking to Eastern Europe for inspiration Swedish pianist Jan Johansson recorded an album of Russian folk songs (Jazz in Russian), and in 1999, Helen Merrill incorporated Croatian elements on Ana Jelena Milcetic, aka Helen Merrill (which employed Mraz on double bass). But even so, it's safe to say that post-bop/Moravian fusion isn't something that the jazz world has been inundated with. Consistently risk-taking and exploratory, Morava is among Mraz's finest accomplishments. ~ Alex Henderson, All Music Guide


George Mraz's "Morava" is an ambitious project which yielded gorgeous results. A native of Czechoslovakia, and one of jazz's great bassists, he decided to meld the folk music of his native land (Moravia) with the jazz music of his adopted country (the U.S).

Some musical experiments succeed, while others fail, but "Morava" is definitely in the former category. This is just a gorgeous album, full of beautiful tunes, wondrous playing, and the ethereal vocals of Zuzana Lapcíková.

Mraz's bass playing is a marvel. It is muscular, yet sensuous and delicate and wondrously melodic at the same time. He is one of those gifted musicians who just seems to exude musical perfection, always hitting exactly the right note with exactly the right phrasing.

The other musicians (Billy Hart on drums, Emil Viklicky on piano and Lapcikova occasionally on cymbalom) perform beautifully as well. To say that they are all on the same page is an understatement. The interplay is positively telepathic. Though on the quiet side, the music is propulsive and consistently engaging. Your foot will be tapping while your ears drink in the melodies.

I wish I could compare this album to something else, but nothing really comes to mind because it is fairly unique. The vocals might appeal to fans of Astrud Gilberto, Flora Purim, and even Joni Mitchell. The music should appeal to jazz-heads, bass players, and anyone with an appreciation of beauty.
By Paul J. Escamilla "sentient being" (NYC)


Sardo said...

Pass: George

itr said...

Fine music. Many thanks, Sardo.