The ProART Festival is entering its 15th year. This year for the first time this multi-genre festival is taking place in four towns and cities. In addition to Brno, Valtice and Liberec this year it will also expand to include Plzeň. A total of 34 instructors will lead workshops in contemporary dance, theatre, singing, music, literature and photography. Among them will be Lenka Dusilová, Zdeněk Bína, Eva Vrbková, Radka Fišarová, Zdeněk Král, and Ida Kelarová as well as authors like Josef Formánek, Michal Viewegh, Jiří Hájíček, Alena Mornštajnová and Tereza Boučková.
The third year of Jazz Courtyard is once more taking place in Prague and Brno. The event is taking place in cooperation with the jazz departments of Prague’s HAMU (Music and Dance Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts) and Brno’s JAMU (Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts). In the courtyard of Brno’s Old Town Hall there will be performances from student ensembles as well as long-term original running projects by selected students. The culmination of the evening will be the concert of the African group Ghana Dance Ensemble. The event is supported by the festivals JazzFestBrno, Tanec Praha and KoresponDance. Entry is free.
This year for the first time in the history of the festival the spring part will present a film production. There will be the Czech premiere of the documentary about one of the biggest personalities in Czech and world jazz with the title Miroslav Vitouš – jazzová legenda (Miroslav Vitouš – Jazz Legend). During the festival Miroslav Vitouš will also be appearing alongside Emil Viklický. The main part of the festival will open with a concert from the saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who among other things played on the last album by David Bowie.
The JazzFestBrno international music festival has revealed its programme for the 17th year, which will last from 1 February to 10 May 2018. Along with the earlier announced concerts by Wynton Marsalis, Avishai Cohen, Brad Mehldau and Donny McCaslin there will also be other famous names in jazz like the big band of Christian McBride, the guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, the drummer Omar Hakim, the pianist Kenny Barron and Vincent Peirani.
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.
There were concerts by big bands at the start and finish of the spring programme of this year’s Jazzfest Brno. And both were supreme musical experiences. The Christian McBride Big Band as one of the three concluding concerts for their European tour for the first time performed in Brno’s Sono Centre. And it was great: crossover, entertaining and light playing, at the same time full of virtuosity and inventive and creative playing. “When we play together it is one big party,” stated the double bass player and bandleader Christian McBride at the start – and both he and his colleagues certainly confirmed that.
“I knew who I wanted to work with and that guided me when I was trying to set up a group with a pleasant sound,” said the French accordionist Vincent Peirani in 2015, shortly after the release of his key album Living Being. At that time he had already completed several interesting acoustic projects including an album with the saxophonist Emil Parisien and he has continued in this style. In 2016 he brought out an enjoyable CD of duets with the pianist Michael Wollny and not long ago he worked with the pianist Stefano Bollani and the Berlin Philharmonic on the album Mediterraneo, inspired by classical music. The Living Being project is however of a completely different character, embodying the accordionist’s conception of electric music on the borders between jazz, rock and other genres. And it was with this programme that Peirani and his group came to Brno’s Husa na provázku (Goose on a String) theatre.
“Up until now, I recorded instrumental songs – with a few exceptions but most of them were instrumental. This is truly the first album where I sing 100% of the songs from beginning to end, which is a big change for me. I needed to make such a step, so I had a bit of fun and I recorded a vocal album,” Avishai Cohen, the Israeli bass player told me a few months ago over the phone. We were talking of course about his current album 1970, where he includes his own songs inspired by the popular music of the seventies, Eddie Palmieri’s classic Vamos Pa’l Monte, the American gospel Motherless Child or folk songs from the Middle East. The album 1970 in its context leans toward pop maybe as an exception, but also references the bass player’s personal history and his love of jazz and traditional Jewish music. The current tour, which included the concert in the Boby Centre in Brno as part of JazzFestBrno, corresponds with the album’s topic, and yet differs a bit. It is even more pop and can surprise even experienced listeners.
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.
Donny McCaslin and his then band Perpetual Motion was a great attraction already in 2012, when the organisers of JazzFest Brno presented him as a foreign star who was to bring his energetic, jazz/funk music to Brno. This year was totally different. Czech audiences know McCaslin well from his concert at Colours of Ostrava and other appearances here, but mainly as the man who worked with David Bowie on his last, critically acclaimed, album Blackstar. Though Bowie’s shadow dogs McCaslin, he doesn’t try to escape it. His album Beyond Now (2016) includes his own version of the singer’s dark piece Warszawa from 1976 and the twenty-years-younger song A Small Plot Of Land (with singer Jeff Taylor). And Bowie could be heard (though as an addition) at the Brno concert too.
An interview between Kateřina Bajo, the main coordinator for the membership of Prague as a city of literature in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and David Dittrich, main coordinator for the membership of Brno as a city of music in the same network. The UNESCO Creative Cities Network was set up in 2004 and its main aim is to support cooperation and international cooperation and creativity. Now it brings together 180 member cities from 72 countries from around the world. The cities fall into 7 creative areas – literature, music, design, film, gastronomy, traditional crafts and media. A city applying for membership in the network has to fulfil very strict criteria, and it must be supported not only by the commission of experts but also by all the member cities.
Brno is now one of the 180 cities from around the world that belongs to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. Only some three dozen of these are focused on music. After Prague it is the second city in the Czech Republic to be accepted into this network. The awarded title recognises the work of artists, people working in culture, the diversity of genres and cooperation with the surrounding region.
As part of the Moravia Music Fest on 16 November the group Organic Quartet with Ondřej Pivec will be performing in Brno’s Metro Music Bar. This organist of Czech origin, who has lived in New York since 2009, has in recent years worked with the major signer Gregory Porter, and for his work on his album Take Me To The Alley even won a Grammy. In Brno he is presenting his new album Terms And Conditions Apply, which he recorded with his former Czech fellow players – the guitarist Libor Šmoldas, the drummer Tomáš Hobzek and the saxophonist Jakub Doležal.
From 16 September to 19 December the twelfth year of Jazz Brno will be taking place in the Stará Pekárna club in Brno. It will offer not only modern jazz but also fusion, funk and a solid chunk of blues. The festival opens on Saturday 16 September with a concert by the American blues musician Linwood Taylor, who will be performing in Brno as part of a larger Czech tour. We asked him a number of questions on the telephone.