Autumn JazzFestBrno: Al Di Meola, Kamasi Washington, José James and Jiří Slavík

20 May 2024, 1:00
Autumn JazzFestBrno: Al Di Meola, Kamasi Washington, José James and Jiří Slavík

Some of the big names coming to Brno in the autumn include Al Di Meola, one of the greatest ever jazz-rock guitarists, and cult American saxophonist Kamasi Washington. Composer and multi-instrumentalist Jiří Slavík will be appearing with the nine-member ensemble Polka-boys to perform their Polkatime project, radical reworkings on the polka that in places even border on ragtime. The autumn will also see the continuation of the Club Life series at Cabaret des Péchés. This time with the singer and "jazz artist for the hip hop generation" José James and a double concert featuring two of the Czech Republic’s leading jazz line-ups - the Robert Balzar Trio and the Matej Benko Quintet.

"Our autumn jazz season is like an umbrella, offering a haven for acts such as the Polka-boys band with paraphrases on Bedřich Smetana, R&B vocalist José James and crypto-rocker Al Di Meola. They’re all united by a shared joy of creating and experiencing music in real time, which I hope is the most powerful thing people get out of jazz, including myself," says Vilém Spilka, the festival's artistic director. One of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time, Al Di Meola, will open the autumn leg of JazzFestBrno on 17 September at the Sono Centre. "A player with astonishing technique, but also a pioneer of jazz fusion with rock and flamenco. His gig in Brno will mainly look back at that stage in his career dominated by the electric guitar," says Spilka.

However, Al Di Meola is also renowned for his compositional style, managing to combine the essence of jazz with elements of the Mediterranean and Latin America to create a completely unique musical language. "In that sense, he’s done something similar in guitar jazz as Carlos Santana did with guitar rock. It’s no coincidence that the two virtuosos toured together in 1980," Spilka adds. For most of his career, Al Di Meola has been a very productive and active musician, with around three dozen solo albums alone. Other essential and popular recordings are those on which Di Meola plays with other colleagues - such as John McLaughlin or Paco de Lucía. On 13 October, the Goose on a String will ring to the beat of the polka. Not the style we're all familiar with, but the radically modified rhythms served up by Jiří Slavík and his Polka-boys. "In some compositions by great Czech names such as Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák or Leoš Janáček, as well as many composers from around the world, the polka has changed so much that its original purpose - to get people dancing - has completely disappeared," says Jiří Slavík, explaining why he and the Polka-boys have decided to bring dancing character and straightforward boldness back to the polka with humour and flair. Slavík explains his project further: "I’ve borrowed themes from polkas by famous Czech composers, but I transform them, add my own flourishes and, as a jazzman will, improvise on them." In doing so, this composer, double bassist and, in this case, accordionist will be joined by some big names from our jazz and classical scene.

American singer, guitarist, composer and producer José James, who will perform on 20 October in the club setting of Cabaret des Péchés, blurs the boundaries between traditional and modern jazz, hip hop, soul, funk, pop and rock. "José James is truly as cross-over an artist as you can get. The musical legacy of his predecessors, or rather predecessors' predecessors, which he finds extremely inspiring and enjoys exploring their music, is a testament to his range," says Spilka. His latest album, for example, last year's On & On, is a tribute to singer-songwriter Erykah Badu. "For my generation, Erykah Badu was one of the most innovative and insightful songwriters. Her work has proven to be groundbreaking in a social, musical and artistic sense," says José James. On 22 October, the Cabaret des Péchés will host two stalwarts of the Czech jazz scene - the Robert Balzar Trio and the Matej Benko Quintet. Double bassist and bassist Robert Balzar has been on the Czech music scene since the late 1980s. He founded the Robert Balzar Trio in 1996, toured the world with it and recorded nine albums. Most of the trio's repertoire consists of their own compositions or reworkings of jazz standards. The current members of the Robert Balzar Trio, besides the bandleader, are pianist Vít Krisšt'an and drummer Kamil Slezák. The range of pianist and composer Matej Benko, now forty-four years old, originally from Slovakia and long since settled in Prague, is extremely broad, not only in jazz. His quintet is also made up of musicians who like to cross borders, but who are essentially some of the top names on the Czech jazz scene. The first to be announced for the autumn leg of the festival is one of the most iconic names on the contemporary jazz scene, American saxophonist Kamasi Washington, who will be presenting his new album Fearless Movement on 5 November at the Sono Centre in his only Czech concert this year.

Al Di Meola/ photo festival archive



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