At first, Slavík performed only with the experienced American musician Doug Hammond, who has played with stars of the American jazz scene like Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins. Hammond’s compositions are based almost solely on rhythm, to which he adds his specific kind of singing that doesn’t follow the classic melodic line, rather playing rhythmic games with the drums. Here, one truly cannot talk about incomprehensible drum solos. The entirety together with Slavík’s piano felt surprisingly light.
During the second half of the evening, the audience had a chance to see Jiří Slavík’s playing and composing skills in concentrated form in his project Mateřština. Slavík lived and studied in Italy, England and France from the age of fourteen. It was only a few years ago that he returned to live in the Czech Republic. The album can feel like a certain parallel to this return. Folk songs were there at the beginning of Slavík’s musical career in a cimbalom ensemble.
He recorded all the instruments for the earlier studio version himself (the viola, cello, double bass, clarinet, cimbalom and piano) except for the flute and other folk wind instruments, played by his friend Marian Friedel, who also wrote several of the songs. The others on the album are either compositions by Jiří Slavík, or by his father or are folk songs from his homeland of Lašsko.
The Anděl prize was probably one of the impulses that made the composer also create the concert version of the album. He was joined not only by Marian Friedl, but also by the musicians of VUS Ondráš, which is the only professional folk ensemble in the country. Its musicians managed to work brilliantly with Slavík’s often complicated arrangements, as was expected.
I must also speak about Marian Friedl, who in the project Mateřština played the flute, fujara and clarinet, but was also presented as a pure folk singer. He makes his instruments himself and he also studies them as an ethnologist. It was no coincidence that he appeared at Jazzfest, since he is an excellent jazz bass player, just like Jiří Slavík. His work in the free-jazz formation NOCZ with the brilliant Norwegian trumpet player Didrik Ingvaldsen can seem as the complete opposite of his projects, which focus on folk music.
Jiří Slavík presented his great composing talent and originality in the individual compositions, in a truly amazing connection of jazz methods with the pure authenticity that rises straight from the human soul. Thus, it was not machine-like, as is often the case with similar folk fusions. And the flawless performance by the professional musicians was a treat to the ears.
One cannot analyse all of the compositions that were presented at the concert. The positive energy that radiated from them is almost impossible to describe in this form, but I will happily emphasise a few of the songs.
Slavík showed us his virtuosity on the double bass in the well-known song V širém poli studánečka, composed by the famous Fanoš Mikulecký. Several of his songs became part of the folk repertoire in time and are known to the general public, which is why it is no longer often played in cimbalom ensembles. But the lost spark was ignited by Jiří Slavík’s performance. Also highly captivating were the songs Kebys vedzela and Ja to je tyn Ondraš, or Marian Friedl’s Ta Králova hora in his own interpretation.
The song Hulán, to which the singer Barbora Kulihová was invited, is also worth a mention. Formerly the accompaniment of the folk dance that bears the same name, played by Slavík in canon, the folk influence was also supported by singing, which Slavík invited the audience to sing along to.
Instead of the usual jam session, the concert ended with Horňácká muzika Petra Mičky, which gave the concert a brilliant finish with their interpretation of the Horňácko microregion’s folk music. Though Jiří Slavík was there as a jazzman and professional artist, it was he who gave it the folk spontaneity and soul. He showed us that folk is a bottomless well of inspiration in the hands of a talented composer and players, that gave it aesthetic value and made it an immensely powerful experience.