Marriage on Bear’s Meadow
Fermáta – Svadba na Medvedej lúke [sample]
from album “Pieseň z hôľ (Song From Ridges)”, 1976, Opus 91160521
produced by Štefan Danko & Ján Lauko
original LP sleeve (front/back)
Since June I’ve spent about one or two weeks each month in Prague for family duties, over six weeks in total. Tomorrow we’re going for yet another week to my home town. This time one of the reasons for our visit is quite pleasant, however. Ondra, my oldest friend for more than thirty years since our school days, is going to marry Markéta on Saturday. But other than that – there’s absolutely no connection between the upcoming event and the main subject of this article except for the first word of the title of this tune: Svadba na Medvedej lúke (Marriage On Bear’s Meadow). Well then – Happy Marriage! (Oh, and while we’re at it: Happy Birthday to my brother Daniel today!)
The Slovak guitar virtuoso František Griglák, born in 1953, was already a well respected and experienced musician before he even turned twenty. With Pavol Hammel he recorded the early albums Prúdy (The Jets) and Som šťastný keď ste šťastní (I Am Happy When You Are Happy) in 1970–1971. Afterwards he shifted to the other main Slovak progressive group of the seventies, Marián Varga’s Collegium Musicum, with whom he worked on the classic(al) double LP Konvergencie (Convergency). In 1973 Griglák established Fermáta as likely the first and for a few years the only professional and more or less straight instrumental jazz-rock combo in Slovakia. The other founding members were the keyboarder and professional stage designer Tomáš Berka (1947), bassist Anton Jaro (1954) as well as originally Pavol Kozma on drums, who was soon replaced by Peter Szapu and in 1976 by another ex-Prúdy member Cyril Zeleňák (1951).
Probably thanks to Berka’s daily job, in the beginning the group used to record lots of scenic themes for various Slovak theater productions, thus training their sense for transforming colors and atmosphere into music. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1975. While it was clearly inspired by jazz-rock heroes like Mahavishnu McLaughlin or Al DiMeola, it suffered from rather poor recording production. One year later, the second album Pieseň z hôľ (Song From Ridges) turned out much better. Not only from the technical but also from the conceptual point of view. Quoting from the English liner notes by Igor Wasserberger: “In Czechoslovak jazz-rock it is this record that presents the most complete essay to form a synthesis with elements of domestic folk music. (…) Fermáta avoid frequent ways of rock and jazz arrangement of folk songs and try to involve elements of [Slovak] folk music into their own musical tongue.”
While the aforementioned statement certainly applies, Svadba na Medvedej lúke (Marriage On Bear’s Meadow) remains an unusual tune in Fermáta’s repertoire. Firstly, written by Berka, Jaro and Zeleňák, it’s the only collective instrumental composition from the group’s 1970s output; all other tunes have been penned either by Griglák or by Berka. Secondly, the band leader Griglák doesn’t seem to participate on this track at all. And frankly, I don’t even miss him that much. [Hey, no personal offense… :) But despite being a guitarist myself, actually I quite dislike the guitar-driven pyrotechnical jazz-rock sub-genre in general; except for Zappa, that is.] The song begins with a drum/synthesizer simulation of a thunderstorm or something, likely happening somewhere in the woods of the Tatra mountains, which then takes us to the said meadow (which actually really exists) while it evolves into a laid back but joyous funky wedding groove carried by a lively bass and colored by wide Fender Rhodes chords floating out of the folk-influenced themes. In fact, the track reminds me of Billy Cobham’s early work from his Spectrum/Crosswind period. In any case, to me Fermáta never sounded as warm as on this track again, although their later albums also include a couple of jazz-funk inspired sequences here and there.
In 1977 Karol Oláh replaced Zeleňák on drums and Ladislav Lučenič became the new bass player. In 1979 yet another ex-Prúdy/Collegium Musicum (and even ex-Blue Effect) member joined in, the Slovak bass master Fedor Frešo. Besides of releasing their conceptual albums the group also used to work as a studio backing band for artists like Miroslav Žbirka (two singles in 1976), Pavol Hammel (Stretnutie s tichom and the first Czechoslovak rock-musical Cyrano z predmestia) or for Dežo Ursiny (Pevnina detstva). The original Fermáta disbanded in 1985 after Oláh’s tragical death. Griglák revived the group with new musicians in the 1990s and continues to tour actively to the present day.