To record an album of famous jazz standards translated into Czech and yet not only to not come up short, but even to come across naturally and as much as possible even originally, is extremely demanding. Darek Neumann, “a kind of Brno character” (as stated in the booklet of the album) has managed it. The fact that it successfully balanced on the very borders of sentiment and pure blues, is much down to the lyrics of Ester Kočičková.
Darek Neumann zpívá Ester Kočičkovou (Darek Neumann sings Ester Kočičková) is the slightly inaccurate subtitle of an album, given that behind titles such as Tady, Svět, který znám or Bojovati s podzimem are hidden standards such as Sunny, What A Wonderful World and Autumn Leaves. Kočičková here as a lyricist presents herself in an unusually serious position, but beneath the guise of blues and sadness (“I don’t believe, so I must go” – Umírám (I’m Dying)) there sometimes glitters linguistic playfulness and clowning. And finally even where in the lyrics the English original is too obvious (the use in Czech of an unnatural number of single syllable words in Tak přišel ke mně stín) or where the words break the rules of our language, Neumann saves the results with a credible interpretation. At the same time while the content of the songs sometimes approaches that of the original (Cry Me A River is here also about a river and Autumn Leaves about autumn), in other places a completely different tale is jokingly composed around the original title of the piece (Sunny is the name of the dying dog in the song Tady). And there where the listener could have the feeling that the song has gone over the edge into kitsch it can still ambush us, with the songwriter throwing in one or two racy buzz words (Pátý element (Fifth Element), “I could have found another element before I stepped in the fifth excrement”).
Darek Neumann worked in the 1990s in the bands Charlie The Bomber and Lehká noha, but also has experience from big bands. Cooperation with Ester Kočičková on this purely blues/jazz project followed up on his participation in the project Pocta Evě Olmerové (Tribute to Eva Olmerová) with the singer Vanda Drozdová, but this time the focus is for almost fifty minutes only on him.
Although Neumann was born in the year of Sergeant Pepper and Pink Floyd's first album, he does swing and the blues surprisingly well. His voice ranges from polished or playful positions to the raucous blues song Pět kafí, often more narrating than singing songs, mainly supplying feeling and leaving the music itself to the instruments. The group Drinkers Rustical Jazz has an experienced line-up of Milan Vidlák (piano and organ), Martin Kostaš (guitar), Petr Kovařík (bass) and Ctibor Hliněnský (drums). Neumann himself adds the harmonica which plays a key role on the album, and for example in the song Tady forms an unusually clear-cut expression counterpointing the more casual singing.
At fifty Neumann in his expression in some moments recalls the more than twenty-years-older Laďa Kerndl. Although from a different background and with different experience, he manages to sing jazz standards at least as credibly as the “Moravian Sinatra”. The distinctive lyrics by Ester Kočičková (not always overwhelming, but in all cases well-crafted) and the singer's ability to interpret a song with humility and without losing anything of his rocker’s personality are for me significant positives. Svět, který znám (The World I Know) is a slightly secret album that it would be a shame to miss.
The Drinkers Rustical Jazz – Svět, který znám. Darek Neumann sings Ester Kočičková. Issued at their own expense 2017, 13 track, total playing time: 48:01