The promising developing contemporary Czech jazz scene, which includes well-functioning festivals and two universities with the teaching of jazz (in Brno and in Prague), is creating the background not just for little ensembles, but also for large orchestras. In Prague there is the excellent Concept Art Orchestra, which under the leadership of the trumpeter Štěpánka Balcarová focuses on the work of contemporary Czech authors in the middle and younger generation (the so-called Prague Six). In Brno the B-Side Band, led by the trumpeter Josef Buchta, sells out big halls and plays at major festivals, cooperating with the popular Vojtěch Dyk, but has not given up on its original jazz repertoire and also cooperates with foreign stars of the calibre of Kurt Elling. Another Brno big band, the Cotatcha Orchestra, under the leadership of (yet another trumpeter) Jiří Kotač, has not yet met with such great success. Despite this the ensemble, put together from students and teachers of the jazz department at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts, is fiercely and healthily making progress in our scene and given the quality of the musicians it has at its centre, I believe that it will in the coming years win a unique place for itself.
One of the important milestones in the short history of this orchestra was a mini-tour with a foreign guest, the Dutch trombonist Ilja Reijngoud. Even if this player is rather less well known here, he has already won a range of significant awards (Latin Grammy and Edison – the Dutch equivalent to the Grammy) and in 2003 he was the victor in the Thelonius Monk composition competition. Currently he is teaching at several Dutch music schools and it was in the role of teacher that several years ago he met Jiří Kotača. He played for him in his big band and in return – something which originally seemed a bit much – he invited Reijngoud to the Czech Republic. Jiří however is an excellent organiser and the Dutch trombonist and composer got the opportunity to present his works to a Czech audience accompanied by the Cotatcha Orchestra in Olomouc, in Polička and in Brno. Before the Brno concert, last in a short series, he praised how well the musicians in the orchestra play. Apparently in rehearsals he hardly needed to explain anything. He only had to explain a little about dynamics, otherwise everything went smoothly.
During the hour-and-a-half-long concert five of Reijngoud’s original compositions were heard, as well as two arrangements of works by Horace Silver and as an encore Kathy by the Brazilian composer Moacir Santos – perhaps as a reminder of the fact that the trombonist has also long been interested in Brazilian music. While in the introductory Silver’s Gods Of The Yoruba, built on a series of swapping solos, Reijngoud performed only as the conductor, from the second English Heart he took up his trombone. But it was in no way a solo showcase for him. Progressively he presented most of the members of the orchestra – from the saxophone section (there was a special role in Eyes To Wonder for Pavel Zlámal) to the drummer Kamil Slezák. The Dutch guest and conductor introduced all the musicians by the Christian names.
Although according to Reijngoud’s words (in an interview with the author of this review before the concert) it was a concert of modern jazz, the works were mostly comprehensible and mostly were played in contemporary big band style, firmly anchored in tradition. A key component of the whole performance was the already-mentioned work with dynamics. It was clear that this dimension of music is crucial for Reijngoud’s language and that the Brno orchestra is able to meet his requirements. In this light there was a wonderful contrast – between on the one hand the already-mentioned lyrical Zlámal solo with piano accompaniment in Eyes To Wonder and on the other hand the full sound of the orchestra, dramatic even in the ballad Nice Mess. In the last of Reijngoud’s pieces, Silver Bars And Rounds, there was a significant – almost dance-like – solo by the drummer Kamil Slezák and in the encore Kathy there was an important opportunity for the pianist Martin Konvička, who otherwise unobtrusively, although skilfully served the ensemble.
For Ilja Reijngoud, who has several projects behind him and who a few weeks ago issued a new album as a trombone duo with Bert Boeren (Jay & Kai Tribute), the three Czech concerts were only a minor episode. Despite this it could be seen that he enjoyed playing with his Czech colleagues and that he put in a one-hundred-percent effort. For the Cotatcha Orchestra after four years in existence this encounter was truly a turning point and also an important stepping stone. In the next year the orchestra is planning in Brno a series of variously-focused concerts – something along the lines of what has been done in Prague by the Concept Art Orchestra. We have something to look forward to.
Cotatcha Orchestra + Ilja Reijngoud (NL), HaDivadlo, Brno, Friday 19 October 2018