from CD “Das erste Mal”, 1997, Consou M’Teem Pelh Produkt CMTP9701
left to right: Dr. Gui, Martina ThC, Felice, Anita Polverosa & yours truly
Sad news from the Funky Czech-In headquarters: on Friday, 30 June 2017, the Swiss drummer Guido Rath – also known as Dr. Gui – has died was found dead, aged 53. He was a member of three of my bands: “Felix” in 1994, then he was drumming with The Plookers from 1995 to 1997 as well as with their follow-up MØPP (Martina & Øgl Punk Project) in 1997 and 1998. Thanks to his solid backing, especially the Plookers were going pretty funky at times, even defining a new musical category called Schmuddelfunk. But not only that: Dr. Gui also happened to be the best man at my wedding! All these achievements are making Dr. Gui fully eligible for the induction ceremony into the newly created Memorial Czech-In category.
Dr. Gui(do Rath) of The Plookers, March 1996
Guido Rath was born on 31 December 1964 in canton Lucerne where he lived until the 1980s. He studied pharmacology in Lausanne (yep, his doctor title was no joke!) but by the 1990s he eventually relocated to Berne where he performed with bands like The Frozen Popes. The latter also featured his fellow dr. pharm. Felix “Felice” Hasler on bass guitar who eventually was to provide his first name to the aforementioned “Felix” group (although actually led by Patrick Lerjen, d’oh) and to become another future funky Plooker. Fast forward into the 2000s when Dr. Gui continued to lend his drumming skills to several lokal groups from Berne, among others performing with the Madukas, and most recently in trio with Gold.
Back To The Egg (The Conclusion) was the closing track from the sole Plookers CD release “Das erste Mal” from 1997. The basic track was recorded in September 1996, actually at first being just a soundcheck jam-session while warming up for the upcoming CD recording session on the Wasserwerk stage in Berne. Felice improvised his bass line, with Dr. Gui spontaneously joining in on drums and Anita Polverosa hitting the cowbell while yours truly was busy attempting to capture the incoming sounds on a borrowed analog 16-track tape recorder. But this very take was then deemed too schmuddelfunky to be just ignored and ditched as an ordinary soundcheck. And thus during several overdub sessions in October and November 1996 at the Firma van Øgl headquarters, more instruments and voices were eventually added to the mix, featuring Martina ThC, Anita Polverosa, Barbara Zbinden and Hannes Meier on vocals and handclaps, yours truly on lead vocals, guitars and Farfisa Syntorchestra (an “antique” instrument owned by Dr. Gui, nota bene), also featuring special guest (and sadly another Memorial Czech-In member) Dänu “Sleepy Dan” Boemle with a couple of preliminary words to the world, and last but not least introducing Anita’s underage son Michi on additional random voice effects.
From album “Jazzové nebajky” a.k.a. “The Jazz Nebyeki (Jazz Non-Fables)”, 1973, Panton 010338 (mono) / 110338 (stereo), reissued in February 2017 on CD Indies Happy Trails MAM735-2
Original LP cover by Aleš Striegl
Many jazz music writers have considered SHQ being among the most influential Czechoslovak jazz combos of all times. Already Lubomír Dorůžka and Ivan Poledňák have devoted a whole chapter to SHQ in their anthology Československý jazz – minulost a přítomnost (Czechoslovak Jazz – The Past And The Present, Editio Supraphon, Praha Bratislava 1967), an honor shared only with SHQ’s direct but relatively short-lived (1958–1961) predecessor Studio 5. And rightly so: in their early years and in context of their geographically limited sphere of activity, SHQ were a pioneering progressive jazz group, boldly exploring many previously undiscovered territories like the free jazz and the avant-garde, as well as – in their later years of existence – introducing several promising young musicians like Emil Viklický, František Uhlíř or Eva Svobodová to the broader jazz audiences.
SHQ was formed in summer 1961 by former Czechoslovak Radio Dance/Jazz Orchestra employees and Studio 5 members Karel Velebný (1931–1989) and Jan Konopásek (1931). Their goal was to establish a small professional jazz group, without being bound to any orchestra performing duties. Nonetheless, in communism even an independent jazz band was required to have an employer, and so for the first two years they became the staff band at the renowned Spejbl + Hurvínek Theatre (a.k.a. “Divadlo S+H”) in Prague, responsible for many scenic music recordings. The theatre also gave the group its name, albeit initially in various spellings: S+H kvartet, SH kvintet, SH Quartet, S+H Quintet, S+H Q, and many variants thereof. After a breakup and a temporary split into two separate “S+H” groups in the mid-1960s, Karel Velebný settled on “SHQ” for the most parts of his later career, adding further humorous name variants and spin-offs like “Sága rodu SHQ” (a wordplay: “The Saga of the SHQ Clan” but also “The Saxophones of the SHQ Origin”) or “Happy Music SHQ”.
After years of personnel fluctuation, by 1971 the lineup had become stable for the next three years: Karel Velebný on vibraphone and tenor sax, Rudolf Ticháček (1943–1982) on soprano and tenor sax, Petr Kořínek (1943) on double bass and Josef Vejvoda (1945) on drums. This quartet was subsequently joined by pianist and organist Karel Růžička (1940–2016). While their previous album Motus (Supraphon 1151138) from 1971 examined the wide possibilities of modal and partially free jazz, on the follow-up Jazzové nebajky, recorded in June 1972, the quintet began to absorb contemporary soul-jazz and jazz-funk trends. Especially compositions by Josef Vejvoda clearly broke with the formerly characteristic swinging and syncopated ternary rhythms and introduced straight and funky backbeats instead. (In a recent e-mail, Mr. Vejvoda confessed to me that his inspiration came, among others, from listening to Crusaders records back in the day.)
The album title was half-translated to English as “The Jazz Nebyeki”. It was likely meant to underline the funny and absurd wordplay of the Czech title, but the second subtitle on back cover is actually more precise: The Jazz Non-Fables. Both the Czech and the English track titles also remind us that this is a concept album: Hyla Viridis (a tree-frog), The Cat’s Dream, From The Empire Of Anemones And Crabs, The Comical Ostrich, Alligator Lucius, In A Game Preserve, The Blue-Eyed Jaguar, Two Vultures, Lori (referencing a parrot subfamily) a.k.a. Stenopes, and The Lost Sheep. The tracks were seamlessly joined by ambient noise interludes that additionally illustrate each respective topic. Not by actual animal sounds – mind you – but by their imitations, creatively and playfully performed by the band members themselves, as seen on credits like “decoy”, “cheeks”, “Stauffer’s lubricator”, “bowl of water”, “water pipe” or “newspaper”. Also, the album narrative was naturally adopted by Panton staff designer Aleš Striegl, allowing us to meet some of the subjects in person on front cover.
My pick V oboře is the opener of side two. The translation “In A Game Preserve” is a bit misleading for non-English speakers; we’re not in a realm for gambling but in a deer park. The life in a preserve is easy and monotonous but not dull, no rush either, enough food for everyone, live and let live. Composer Vejvoda kicks the tune off aptly with a relaxed funky drum beat, joined in by a simple on-the-one double bass and bluesy Hammond organ comping. One minute later, the saxes present a catchy theme that leads into a loose solo dialog between the tenor buck and the soprano doe, paraphrased from the other side of the panorama (unless you own a mono pressing) by the organ mouflon. The visitor’s path through the preserve is a straight one, no bends or windings, no harmony changes, this amusing excursion happens solely in the key of F.
The vinyl LP used to be quite a successful export article, regularly repressed and distributed abroad during the 1970s. It’s still an in-demand collector’s item, but the supply of well preserved copies at moderate prices hasn’t dried out yet. Nonetheless, saying that a CD reissue was “long overdue” is actually a massive understatement. Hey, we’re talking about a record that was voted the “best Czech jazz album until 1989” in a 1998 poll organized by the Czech Jazz Society! But for many decades it seemed as if this album has never existed. Literally, because since 2008 – since I was working on the Vampisoul compilation The Funky Way Of Emil Viklický that featured a couple of SHQ tracks – I have repeatedly asked about the fate of the album master tapes while visiting the Supraphon headquarters. Supraphon owns the Panton back catalog for quite some time now, yet Jazzové nebajky was nowhere to be found in their internal database! Frankly, I thought that to be quite disturbing.
Yours truly has also participated in the reissue project with additional research and discography facts. But mainly I was responsible for the remastering of four of the CDs, including Jazzové nebajky. (The other four CDs were remastered by Indies’ own engineer Broněk Šmid, albeit with my modest supervision, as he wasn’t familiar with the music yet.) Thus, although I haven’t witnessed the original Nebajky master tape in person – studio ADK-Prague did the “hi-res” digitalization to 24-bit/192 kHz – at least I can attest to have received the genuine audio material and to have carefully processed it following the (high, but admittedly my own) “A Loudness Peace Master” standard.
Yes, it’s a big “but”, and that’s for a reason: Supraphon has simultaneously re-released the digitized SHQ recordings via their own supraphonline.cz digital music store (they can: their licenses to third party labels are non-exclusive). But the downloadable versions that Supraphon is selling are not the remastered ones! Trust me, some of the original unprocessed masters from the 1960s and 1970s sound actually pretty abysmal by today standards. Hence no link for now, avoid, and get the real thing on CD instead, approved by yours truly.
(P.S. Last but not least, the track V oboře will be also included on our upcoming Vampisoul compilation Czech Up! Volume 2 that is already in the works and scheduled for release later this year. Stay tuned.)
Scan of the original Jazzové nebajky master tape certificate from 1972
The audio samples are presented as a “specimen” to encourage readers to buy the artists’ albums. Many of the tracks presented herein are available for purchase in MP3 or FLAC format at supraphonline.cz.