Zabelov Group and their quest for sound options

20 March 2019, 2:00

Zabelov Group and their quest for sound options

The JAZZFESTBRNO Festival is expanding this year with the new Tension programme line, which will feature musicians on the borderline between jazz and electronic music. One of the performers who will appear on 28 March in the Praha space in Brno will be the Czech-Ukrainian duo Zabelov Group, which has recently released a new album called Eg. This interview with Roman Zabelov (accordion, voice, piano, organ, harp…) and Jan Šikl (drums, trumpet, guitar, percussion…) was done in a Prague café just before a rehearsal of the band.

Do you still remember when and how the two of you met?

R: Neither of us knows it precisely any more. We can only analyse what happened in the past. At the same time, we were studying at the same school and that somehow connected us.

J: Roman and I, we both studied at the Prague Conservatory – I studied composition and Roman accordion at first, and later also composition. And during our studies, we found out that we needed to try and play together.

When you both studied composition, was your duo originally born more as a songwriting project rather than a performing one?

R: No. The project had to mature for a long time. At the beginning I built some repertoire and started to play it as a soloist. From time to time they invited me to a festival where I then expressively played things, which were incomprehensible for the audience. But I was still looking for someone with whom I could develop my ideas toward rhythm. It started to work when we met with Honza.

Honza, what impression did those barely understandable accordion compositions give you as a listener?

J: I remember two impressions from that first phase. One of them was completely immediate. I was enchanted by the sound of the accordion, because I hadn't had an immediate experience before with that kind of concert instrument. The second impression concerned the compositions. I remember that Roman was presenting me with certain forms, and I explained to him that it would not work that way, that the compositions would need to be simplified, made more transparent and shorter.

R: After all, we have all the songs from eleven to fifteen minutes long on the first album.

J: Yes, only several years later my words came true.

It is true that on the new album Eg, the compositions have about five minutes each on average. How do you feel about the album at all? Does it have a concept? Do the songs create a whole on it?

J: There is no straightforward concept in there. We made our previous recordings as a documentary of a live process. Now we had a strong need to make a new record – also  through detailed work with the sound – from the completely opposite side, putting it together in the studio, even though there was  music in the background that we had rehearsed before and which we knew was working. We also wanted to process this music using field recordings and with the help of guests, and we also wanted to experiment with the sound in various manners, which is not possible when we play live.

Anyway, I perceive it so that the process of creating the album described in this way also is a concept. So what was it at the very beginning? Fragments of compositions?

R: That's a pretty difficult question. Those songs in which the drum kit plays its role are mostly based on some of my motives that we are trying to work with, we are looking for common rhythmic connecting lines, some groove. When something comes out of it, the composition gradually moves to other shores. So it melodically and harmoniously comes out of me, but together we finish each song to the final stage and try to enrich it with electronics, samples and everything that seems to us suitable for that particular composition. Ambient compositions are created by thinking, together with Honza, about how we could experiment with sound. For example, we decided to record organ and trumpet in a church, then added vocals, we were trying to work with it. The resulting composition then comes from such searching and testing of different sound possibilities and joining it all together. We had a free hand and a lot of time and it came to a shape you can hear on the album.

Roman, when you create those initial ideas, how do you perceive them in your head? Like stories? Feelings? Colours?

R: That’s an interesting question, but I don't think that way. The process of creating compositions is completely natural for me. In the evening, I sit down and somehow the energy I have accumulated during the whole day shows off.

Roman is an accordionist, Honza plays mainly drums, but in fact each of you masters other instruments as well. According to what did you decide which colours and sounds would match individual compositions?

J: We were sitting over a particular material and talking about what this or that song needed in order to be complete. Frequently this could be merely a question of form, some other times it was more about colour and a search for a significant instrument that would help it. I like to surround myself with instruments, and that is why I have such a small arsenal of different possibilities in our rehearsal room. So sometimes we just take a semi-functional instrument from the shelf and rehearse with it. Sometimes it doesn't work out, but some other times something interesting comes out of it.

R: There's definitely a coincidence in it. When composition works and the form is built up, we try to give it more varied colours. It is often associated with a specific idea. For example, we thought that organ and accordion are related instruments, and therefore we wanted to enrich the natural sound of accordion with organ. Such a special symbiosis came out of it. Or another example: I play the harp in one song because we wanted to try something like that.

You then invited guests when you yourself no longer knew what sounds to use?

J: Whatever we were able to serve by ourselves, worked, but it had its limits. So we were happy to invite guests who were masters of their instruments and they were able to add something from themselves to our album. For example, I have a double bass at home and I like to strum on it, but I wouldn't think of playing a part that Jaromír Honzák performed on the album.

Was it improvisation in his case, or was that part written?

R: He was based on a written part, but of course he also contributed something from himself. We merely hinted our guests about what and how we wanted, but they finally brought something into it that we wouldn't even be able to write down. Jaromír Honzák or saxophonist Petr Kalfus are excellent players and they can get something from their instruments that an ordinary composer would be unlikely to write into the score.

Jaromír Honzák and Petr Kalfus are our leading jazz players and sometimes you are also ranked in jazz. So, what you are playing is jazz or is it not?

J: That's exactly the answer: It is or it is not. Obviously both answers apply. We do not want to give an unambiguous answer, and we cannot even do so. On the contrary, we hope that the answer will be given by you – the journalists who ask us. In principle, it is not so important for us. Of course, we do not despise that question, we are interested to know what we are, but it is such a very odd simplification. For us, it is more natural to postpone such a question, sit down to our instruments and start playing. That's what we want.

I am also asking because you will play in Brno at the JAZZFESTBRNO festival. Could you describe to which environment your music is best suited?

R: That's a difficult question. What is evident, is the demanding nature of our music, it is not entertaining music, there is an intellectual basis in it. Frequently there are deeply sophisticated  rhythmic passages, there is an unconventional approach in it. Of course, we use already existing instruments, but we try to do the playing our own way. Some say it is jazz, other people say it is not jazz. So we can actually play anywhere, it just depends on how open the audience is. A jazz listener is used to complicated musical expressions, and this may open a faster path for us.

Do you see the album Eg as an important milestone, or simply as a stretch of your joint musical journey?

J: We will probably only find out after some time whether it is an important milestone. But we perceive this album as a stop on the way we set off for. It is important for our meeting with Roman that we are in  a permanent harness of our ideas. We impose specific tasks on each other, we have visions. In that sense, we are on our way.

Are your current concerts based on the album Eg?

R: Since the album is directly related to studio work and the quest for rich sound, it goes without saying that we cannot play a lot of songs from it live. But for the launch we chose and rehearsed about five compositions. We will see if and how we will continue to work with them. In something we feel we have already moved on, we have additional ideas. We keep moving our sound forward and we do not want to stop.

Comments

Reply

No comment added yet..

Those who were captivated by the introductory distinctive song with surrealistic lyrics  Z ježatých hor [From the Spiky Mountains] on the previous album of the Brno group Budoár Staré dámy [Boudoir of an Old Lady] (Sůl [Salt], 2017), can rejoice. The collaboration with the contemporary poet Lubor Kasal that began only three years ago has now resulted in an entire album of his texts set to music. However, the songs on the new album Kostřičky [Little Skeletons] have one more characteristic in common: the production and arrangement contribution by the multi-instrumentalist Tomáš Vtípil.  more

The Janáček Brno 2020 International Festival promptly replaced yesterday's Hungarian performance of the opera Salome by Richard Strauss. Instead of the guest appearance, the National Theatre Brno offered a concert programme under the simple name Orchestra of the Janáček Opera. After a long time, the audience could see the musicians who normally remain hidden inside the orchestra pit. In addition to the orchestra, which was conducted by Robert Kružík, the violinist Josef Špaček and the pianist Miroslav Sekera also appeared. The programme clearly consisted only of the works by Leoš Janáček, and since the originally planned performances can no longer be staged in the ever-tightening quarantine environment, the evening at the Janáček Theatre meant a farewell to the festival as such. The last live concert of the Janáček Brno 2020 festival is today's performance of the Brno Philharmonic in the Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Old Brno.  more

Sunday afternoon was marked by another concert of the Janáček Brno 2020 festival. Chamber music performed by the Josef Suk Piano Quartet was given space in the Mozart Hall of Reduta. This ensemble (young both in the year of its founding and its age composition) prepared a truly beautiful and diverse programme for its visit to Brno, and presented it to the audience with adequate commitment.  more

Despite the unpredictability of the coronavirus situation, the Janáček Brno 2020 festival opened yesterday at the Janáček Theatre in Brno. The gala opening of the festival featured a premiere of the opera Destiny by Leoš Janáček directed by Robert Carsen, one of today's praised opera directors.  In fact, Brno audiences had the opportunity to get acquainted with his directing visions of Janáček's operas already in the past; Carsen's concepts for The Makropulos Affair and Katya Kabanova rank among the best that have appeared on the stage of the National Theatre in Brno in recent years. However, the production of Destiny at this year's Janáček's festival is even more exceptional, as this time the director created it directly for the Brno opera house. The costumes were designed by Annemarie Woods, while the stage design was created by Radu Boruzescu. Philip Sheffield (old Živný) and Enrico Casari (young Živný) played the roles of the composer Živný; his fateful love Míla Válková was portrayed by Alžběta Poláčková and her mother by Natascha Petrinsky. Peter Račko performed the role of Dr. Suda, Jan Šťáva was the painter Lhotský and Lukáš Bařák gave his voice to the character of Konečný. The music production is the work of Marko Ivanović, who also conducted the premiere yesterday.Destiny is often described as a problematic opera with a confused story and an imperfect libretto.  more

Let us hope that Sunday's concert to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the great music band of the Brno-based Valášek Children's Ethnographic Ensemble (Dětský národopisný soubor Valášek) will not be the last event that ever-changing government regulations will allow. And even if that, God forbid, was the case, it would be a dignified farewell.  more

The newly built church in Brno Lesná suburb provided inspiration for the flautist Martina Komínková for her album Resonance. The CD cover art features photos of the church ceiling, which glitters with all the colours of the rainbow. The album itself is colourful in a similar way; the musician uses several different types of flute on it.  more

For the end of this summer, the National Theatre Brno prepared a children's opera, written by the composer Evžen Zámečník under the title Ferdy the Ant  (original Czech title: Ferda Mravenec), based on the story by Ondřej Sekora. The stories of an optimistic ant who "can do anything and knows everything" and doesn’t turn his nose up at “work of all kinds", however, are actually not appearing at the Janáček Theatre for first time. Zámečník's work in eight scenes won the hearts of the Brno audiences between the years 1977 and 1986 with astounding success; it helped bring a number of children to opera – the most refined form of musical theatre. Today, these already adult musicians, actors, directors, lighting technicians and many others have decided to pay tribute to the composer, who also carried out a lot of "work of all kinds" for Brno's musical life.  more

The municipal council of Velká nad Veličkou decided already in mid-April that this year's Horňácké Festivities (original name: Horňácké slavnosti) would not take place on the traditional dates around the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, and their scope, previously meant to be of three to five days, would also be modified. Obviously, it was impossible to foresee the development of lockdown measures towards the third week of July, but musicians from the Horňácko district tried to come up with at least a partial alternative solution in order to maintain continuity. Eventually, two concerts were officially held on two consecutive Saturdays:  On 18 July,  live broadcast of a public radio recording of Czech Radio Brno under the title Hrajte že ně, hrajte aneb Horňácké trochu jinak (Play for Me, or Horňácké Festivities in a Slightly Different Fashion) took place at the Culture House in Velká nad Veličkou. A week later, at a sports complex in Javorník, a traditional competition for "the biggest expert on Horňácko peasant songs" was held under the auspices of the Horňácko Dulcimer Band of Libor Sup. Needless to say, both events have found their spectators and listeners.  more

The Brno-based rock band Kulturní úderka (which translates loosely as "Culture Brigade"), led by singer and guitarist Štěpán Dokoupil, did not keep its fans waiting for too long this time. While there was a fifteen-year break between their first and second albums, the new album Black Metall was released less than two years after the previous album Sarajevská Katarzija (Sarajevo Catharsis). The name of the new album must be handled with care. Úderka has never had anything to do with black metal as a music genre. And once again, we are treated not to metal, but to relatively raw rock, which in some moments is pleasantly softened by the keyboard of Omer Blentič, or the trumpet of their guest artist Jan Kozelek.  more

Cultural life has endeavoured to move into a sterile and "life-safe" social networking environment in an unequal struggle against the viral phantasm and government lockdown regulations. In the darkest months, music institutions competed with one another in staging recordings of memorable concerts, and major opera houses broadcast to the world those of their performances that gained the most success from spectators.  more

Shortly before the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, the Brno-based group Plum Dumplings released a new album. As opposed to their official debut L'épitaphe des papillons (The Epitome of Butterflies, 2014), sung in French, the band went for Czech lyrics this time. We are talking to the band's vocalist, who presents herself as Adéla Polka.  more

Oldřich Veselý, a Brno-based singer, composer and keyboard player, died in January 2018. In February 2019, the 10th Brno Beatfest, dedicated to his memory, took place in the Semilasso music hall. And a year later, a CD recording of this concert was released under the title Malý princ [The Little Prince], complemented by several bonus items.  more

On the twenty-fourth of May of this year, five days before her ninety-second birthday, Mrs. Anna Kománková passed away – and with her departed her particularly extensive songbook of ballads (not only) from the Javornicko and Horňácko districts, which she had always carried in her head. She was able to perform all the songs conserved in her memory in a distinctive and inimitable style. All her life she safeguarded the rare legacy of her ancestral heritage – all the more interestingly because she did not write down the hundreds of often complicated tunes and many dozens of verses and variants of ballads, but she knew them all by heart. Even after she reached the age of ninety, when she no longer enjoyed good health and did not perform in public, she remained in contact with the Javornický ženský sbor [Javorník Women's Choir], which she had revived and eventually led for many years. She never pushed herself forward anywhere, while at the same time she learned a lot from the skills of her ancestors: apart from singing (dozens of songs from the hymn-book  and hundreds of folklore songs) she was an excellent embroiderer: She sewed and embroidered with her own hands every part of the folk costume she wore.  more

The Brno Contemporary Orchestra, conducted by Pavel Šnajdr, concluded its ninth season with a concert called Con certo: With Certainty or with the Devil?, held in the hall of the Convent of the Merciful Brethren. The programme featured works by authors already established in the world of contemporary classical music: Alexej Fried, Olga Neuwirth and György Ligeti, whose violin concerto was performed by the violin virtuoso Milan Paľa.  more

When pronouncing the name Jiří ‘moravský’ Brabec (1955-2018) (the name is partly a pun referring to a typical Moravian dish called "moravský vrabec", which is pork roast with braised cabbage and  dumplings – translator's note), anyone, who until recently had any business concerning the Czech-Moravian folk and country scene, is reminded of the unmistakeable figure of a mighty man wearing a beard, with a strong voice and an inexhaustible source of information, and an enviable general knowledge of not only the above-mentioned music genre. We are speaking here about a complicated but deservedly respected personality who was able to surprise us with his knowledge in a number of disciplines, but also with his self-deprecating humour and unexpected physical dexterity. Unfortunately, for the last time he surprised people around him with his sudden departure, only a few days before his sixty-third birthday in June 2018, almost unnoticed by the public media, for which he had worked for so many years.  more

Editorial

The Faculty of Music of the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts will be led for the next four years by Professor Barbara Maria Willi, Ph.D. At its meeting yesterday, the academic senate of the faculty decided on it in a secret vote. Professor Willi applied for this management position at the JAMU Faculty of Music with Associate Professor MgA. Vít Spilka.  more

The Janáček Theatre, which is part of the National Theatre Brno and hosts the Brno opera and ballet ensembles, is celebrating 55 years of its existence. The operation of this theatre began on 2 October 1965 with a performance of The Cunning Little Vixen by Leoš Janáček.  more

The church concert of the Ensemble Opera Diversa was originally supposed to present Ondřej Kyas' oratorio Stabat Mater; due to the current situation, however, the production of this work will be replaced by a purely instrumental performance of other compositions. The new programme will feature MacMillan's Seraph, a concerto for trumpet and strings with Vít Otáhal as the soloist, and Arvo Pärt's Festina lente with Dominika Kvardová playing the harp. The concert will be complemented by instrumental works by Ondřej Kyas and Ľuboš Bernáth with the Czech premiere of a rarely performed piece - Summa by Arvo Pärt. The concert will be conducted by Gabriela Tardonová.  more

The situation in the Czech club scene has been alarming for a long time now. Music clubs, which were the first to close in the first wave of the coronavirus crisis, are now facing serious existential problems. Without state aid to the cultural sector, there is a threat of absolute bankruptcy in the coming weeks.  more

The Moravian Philharmonic Olomouc is now entering its 75th concert season, which will begin with music by the Czech composers Antonín Dvořák, Bohuslav Martinů, Iša Krejčí and Marek Keprt. The last of them wrote a composition directly for the Moravian Philharmonic. The orchestra will play it tonight under the baton of the chief conductor Jakub Klecker, with the pianist Ivo Kahánek appearing as a soloist. The concert will be broadcast live by Czech Radio on its Vltava station.  more

The Brno Philharmonic is preparing one global and one Czech premiere for this week. However, there will be one change to the programme: as opposed to the original one, Mozart's Symphony No. 32 in G major will be played instead of the previously announced composition Angels of Sorrow by Giya Kancheli. Furthermore, works of Josef Haydn and Kurt Schwertsik will be featured; the latter will attend this premiere in person.  more

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Metropolitan Opera will not start the season until January of the following year. Traditional cinematographic broadcasts will now make use of the Met's archive. In the autumn, three classic works of Italian opera and one bonus screening are planned.  more

The musical evenings entitled Zdenek Merta u klavíru v Městském divadle Brno ('Zdenek Merta Playing the Piano at the Brno City Theatre') are continuing. The concert to be held in October promises Ondřej Pivec as a guest – a pianist, composer and winner of a American Grammy Award for 2017.  more

With the upcoming Janáček Brno 2020 festival, dummies of Leoš Janáček with his dog Čipera started to appear in the streets of Brno. A QR code is placed on each of the dummies, which, after scanning, will play a sample of his works.  more

Metronome Blues are sending their album Garden Of Eden out into the world. They will release it in their domestic Kabinet Múz (Cabinet of Muses), where they will also present their new line-up. Garden Of Eden is the fourth serial album of the band Metronome Blues. It was released digitally in the spring of 2020 during "lockdown" in New Zealand. Its vinyl version will be released in October by the Brno label Kabinet Records.  more