“We did it as a session, sitting opposite each other, so that the viewer would have the experience of coming to a rehearsal,” says singer Dan Bárta, describing how his current album, In One Breath (Jedním dechem), was recorded together with the jazz Robert Balzar Trio and Hungarian trumpeter Kornél Fekete-Kovács. The jazziest album in Dan Bárta’s rich discography was released on the Brno label Bivak Records and was recorded in the Brno studio of Czech Television.
In the future, music historians will be able to categorize the album In One Breath as a “covid recording”, i.e. such audio and/or visual recordings that probably would not have been made without the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. What we can now listen to from the successful live album One Breath was originally intended to be a concert at the JazzFestBrno Festival. Since regular performances with an audience could not take place, however, the organizers of JazzFest Brno decided to join forces with Czech Television, giving rise to the JazzFestBrno on Screen series. As part of the series, the television made a recording of a live session (without audience, of course) and of this interesting project. In addition to being shown on TV screens, the recording was subsequently released on CD.
While the previous joint album of Dan Bárta and Robert Balzar Trio Theyories contained reworked world hits by Led Zeppelin, Björk, Simply Red, and the Police (as well as one medieval Marian chant), this time the repertoire is for the most part truly jazz. On the one hand, these are original compositions by the individual musicians involved, while on the other, it contains classics of jazz, such as the opening Naima by John Coltrane or the Gershwin brothers’ swing hit If Not For Me. From the repertoire of Bart’s Illustratosphere (of which Robert Balzar is a member) the quintet “borrowed” the songs Dech and May Day, while from Theyories the beautiful composition Last Chance Lost by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell is repeated (or rather developed). Kamil Slezák’s drum solo is hidden under the title Under The Surface, Robert Balzar performs a solo on double bass in For Your Sound No. 4, and pianist Vit Kriszman’s original composition Mysteriózní gives the individual instrumentalists a chance to show off with a silent Bárta.
But beware, In One Breath is not a singer’s album with a backing band. In fact, it really is a jazz quintet of five strong personalities who are in great command of their instruments, be it trumpet, bass, piano, drums, or the human voice. Incidentally, although some of the songs on the album have lyrics, Bárta draws more attention to himself this time with his work with the timbre of his voice, the pitches he can soar to with sovereignty, and his work with rhythm. In this respect, it is worth watching his communication with trumpeter Fekete-Kovács. In Harmonie magazine, Bárta says: “By both of us being wind instruments in our own way, we can sing double or work with unisons, and thus simply function as if we were a duo. Singing and trumpet usually go well together and can adapt to each other.” But again, it’s important to remember that this isn’t even a two-soloist album. There are plenty of passages in which all the remaining members draw attention to each other virtuosically and yet without unnecessary exhibitionism, and not just with the longest solos listed above.
The order of the tracks on the album is interesting. Coltrane’s Naima in the opening is a clear nod to the modern jazz tradition. And the fact that this particular arrangement of the iconic piece starts as if out of chaos, with prominent percussion and non-melodic trumpet entries, and only very slowly does the melody sung by Barta emerge as if from nowhere, reveals something about the album as a whole. It is not about hits, it is not about clear melodies at any price, but about communication between the players, which requires breathing in order to develop into something beautiful and meaningful. The closing Last Chance Lost may be a symbol of such beauty, but even in this case it is a beauty that requires at least a partially informed listener. A beauty that will be enjoyed most by those who have been paying attention for the full forty minutes, savoring all that the musicians, sitting opposite each other in the television studio, have managed to surprise each other with in the best sense of the word.
Dan Bárta & Robert Balzar Trio feat. Kornél Fekete-Kovács. Jedním dechem (In One Breath); Bivak Records 2022, 9 tracks, total running time 40:08
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