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Funky Czech-In

An introduction to Czech and Slovak pop music from the sixties, seventies and eighties with a touch of funk, soul, disco and jazz.

In The Game Preserve

2017-02-12

SHQ – V oboře (In A Game Preserve)

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

shq jazzove nebajky front
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.

But don’t despair, nebyeki aficionados! Thanks to the unyielding jazz enthusiast and bold label owner Jaromír Kratochvíl from Brno, not only have the original Nebajky master tapes finally resurfaced in 2016. On February 8, 2017, his label Indies Happy Trails has released the very first CD reissue of Jazzové nebajky. And that’s not the end of the good news yet. On seven other CDs, Indies Happy Trails has actually released the complete Supraphon recordings by Karel Velebný from 1959 until 1972, including the Hnilička & Velebný Tentet, as well as all Studio 5 tracks with several bonus tracks featuring Jan Konopásek and Iancsy Kőrössy that were out of print for more than a half of a century. The whole series was compiled and annotated by my fellow music writer, researcher and occasional collaborator Jaroslav Riedel.

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.

BUT:

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.)

shq jazzove nebajky master tape certificate
Scan of the original Jazzové nebajky master tape certificate from 1972

Mercy Mercy Mercy

2008-08-31

Marie Rottrová & Flamingo – Nechci (Mercy Mercy Mercy)
from album “Marie Rottrová”, 1972, Supraphon 1131268
arranged by Rudolf Březina, produced by František Řebíček

Marie Rottrová & Flamingo – I’ve Had Enough (Mercy Mercy Mercy)
from album “Rhythm & Romance”, 1977, Supraphon/Artia 1132303
arranged by Rudolf Březina, produced by Miloš Zapletal

rottrova 1 rottrova 2
original 1972 and 1977 LP covers

It’s been quite a long time since my last article, dear reader, so welcome back. This post is actually sort of a reader request: Magda, the charming young owner of the cute Happyfeet Records store in Prague asked for these tracks, so here we go…

Mercy Mercy Mercy was not only one of the biggest hits for Cannonball Adderley, but also one of Joe Zawinul’s – Adderley’s keyboarder then – “signature” compositions. Apart from being one of the most popular and instantly recognizable jazz hits of all times anyway. The 1966 original was an instrumental tune, but due to its soul-jazz feeling it’s been actually predestined for release as a vocal number. Of course, Marie Rottrová wasn’t by far the first one to sing it. Nancy Wilson probably had one of the first versions on her 1967 album Just For Now with lyrics by Gail & Vincent Levy – a slow and super cool rendition, by the way, worth to check out on its own! Marlena Shaw and Madeline Bell sang it, too. Even the Everly Brothers, the Creation or the Buckinghams did. And Eddie Jefferson vocalized it in his very special own way on Body And Soul in 1968. (See allmusic.com for a long list…)

However, Flamingo’s saxman Rudolf Březina re-arranged Mercy Mercy Mercy to a hot cooking uptempo pop-soul number, driven by Jiří Urbánek’s funky bass line, while Pavel Vrba wrote the original Czech lyrics Nechci (I Don’t Want). The tune first appeared on Rottrová’s “solo” album in 1972 – which has been introduced on Funky Czech-In almost two years ago, so please refer to that article for more details.

For Flamingo’s second export album Rhythm & Romance in 1977, the original instrumental basic track has been slightly remixed and new English vocals were overdubbed; both enhancements were not necessarily for better, if you ask me, but there they are. The words of I’ve Had Enough roughly follow Vrba’s Czech original. They were penned by Joy Turner, possibly the only Czechoslovakia-based pop lyricist in the 1970s who was officially allowed to write in English, albeit usually only for the Supraphon/Artia export albums.

Neither version has been reissued on CD yet*) so czech out your usual vinyl sources. Rhythm & Romance never even officially retailed in Czechoslovakia, thus you will rather likely find a copy of the LP in Germany, Poland, Hungary or Russia. (I got mine from Poland, if I remember correctly.) It’s sort of a “Best of Rottrová 1972–1976” album: except for two chansons in Czech, it contains English versions of her popular tunes, including the funky classic Ring Of Light (Kruh světla), Urbánek’s pre-acid-jazz masterpiece Time Is A Rogue (Modré oči mládí), or the complete vocal version of Quasimodo’s Dream (originally split into parts 1 & 2 on the Plameňáci 75 album). There are also unique cover versions of Nutbush City Limits and I’m On Fire, which are different recordings than the better known 7″ versions with Czech lyrics, Pan Muž and Expres Mléčné dráhy respectively.

P.S. Apropos Czech vinyl sources: I have a couple of the Rottrová pop/chanson singles for sale right now, including some ballads known from the Rhythm & Romance LP, as well as the super funky album Flamingo/Plameňáci 75 in excellent condition! Please visit shop.loukash.com.

P.P.S. Stay tuned to this blog, there will likely be very exciting news later this year! We’re working pretty hard on “some thing”…


P.P.P.S. 2016-02-17
*) As I have learned directly from the Supraphon licensing office in the meantime, both versions of the track have been disapproved by the original publisher and won’t be generally available for reissue due to licensing restrictions. Nonetheless, the Czech version is included in the massive CD/DVD box set Co mám, to dám, and oddly enough, the English version is still available for purchase via supraphonline.cz.

The best disco in town

2008-06-04

Bezinky & Pražské smyčce – Žiješ v éře diskoték (The Best Disco In Town)
from compilation “Disco klub”, 1978, Panton 110717
conducted by Jiří Hrábek

disko klub
original compilation cover

What was valid thirty years ago still seems to be valid today – we’re living in a disco era. And this week I have the pleasure to present you literally the best disco in town:

Saturday, June 7, 23:00 h
Kuppel Basel
Czech Oldies Party with DJ Lou Kash

The opportunity for this event should be pretty obvious. So… if you (unlike me) are interested in this, the chances are that you might find yourself in Basel this Saturday. And since you already are reading this blog, it’s very likely that you will then appreciate our little party, too.
See you in the Kuppel!

Recent posts

2017-07-08: In memoriam Dr. Gui, the funky drummer
2017-02-12: In The Game Preserve
2016-02-17: Interlude: Vampi Czech-In, parts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7
2009-09-19: Interlude: Vampi Czech-In, part 1
2008-08-31: Mercy Mercy Mercy

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Disclaimer

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.

Copyright

All written content is © 2006– by Lukáš Machata (Lou Kash). Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. If you’d like to use portions of my articles, please contact me first.