Jazzový orchestr Československého rozhlasu (JOČR) – Pojďme si hrát
from album “Jubileum”, 1980, Supraphon 11152730
arranged and conducted by Kamil Hála, produced by Svatopluk Rychlý, Vlastimil Hála & Antonín Matzner.
original LP sleeve
Funky Czech-In wouldn’t be nearly as funky if I would ignore Czech jazz big bands. The Czech big band tradition dates back almost to the early days of jazz. Among the best post-war orchestras were those lead by Gustav Brom, Karel Vlach, Zdeněk Barták or Karel Krautgartner. Today I’ll introduce you to the Czechoslovak Radio Orchestra, nowadays known as the Czech Radio Big Band, originally founded by Krautgartner in 1960. In 1963 the orchestra was sort of “split” into JOČR (Jazz Orchestra of the Czechoslovak Radio) and its alter ego TOČR (Dance Orchestra of the Czechoslovak Radio), both with identical personnel. When led by Josef Vobruba, then the “TOČR” label was mostly used while backing pop artists of all kinds, playing genres from foxtrot, easy listening or soul-beat of the sixties, to pop, disco and muzak of the seventies and eighties. As “JOČR” on the other hand the same orchestra continued to perform and record as an independent contemporary jazz big band, even going through a third stream period in the mid 1960s. Yet in this musically quite schizophrenic situation JOČR maintained to keep the high level of its work, mostly thanks to its longtime leader Kamil Hála. Hála, born 1931, was with the orchestra from the very beginning, originally as its pianist and from 1963 on as the bandleader and arranger of the orchestra’s jazz repertoire. He also composed some of the crucial early tunes like Město v mlze (Foggy Town) or Portrét (Portrait). In 1971 he and his brother Vlastimil were one of the pioneers of progressive jazz/rock fusion when they melted JOČR with the legendary prog-rock group Blue Effect for the Nová syntéza (New Synthesis) album.
As its title hints, the album Jubileum (Jubilee) was issued to celebrate JOČR’s (and in fact also TOČR’s) twentieth anniversary, although the recording sessions already took place between 1978 and 1979. The producers were obviously planning ahead being aware of Supraphon’s ultra-long manufacturing terms. It’s by no means a “retro” album but luckily the staff also did fine without participating on the then popular disco-jazz vogue; after all they were recording enough of disco as TOČR already. Thus the album sounds more like coming from the pre-disco era which is certainly a good thing. Side one takes off with Hála’s tight funk fusion Pouštím si draka (Flying My Kite), followed by three more or less conventional but swinging jazz tunes, the only cover being Desmond’s Eleven Four. The birthday party continues on side two with another Hála composition, a cool latinesque blues jam in 6/4: Pojďme si hrát (Let’s Go To Play). Five minutes of punchy horns, solid jazz-funk rhythm section, nice guitar, sax and trumpet solos and on top of the cake an explosive drums/conga duet. Other tracks worth mentioning in our context are the already quite known melancholic Kapka rosy (Dew Drop) and the joyous latin fusion A Go Go full of polyrhythmic drum’n’perc breaks (the same tune has been re-recorded as Agogo by Jazz Cellula for the Panton Mini Jazz Klub series one year later; Jazz Cellula was in fact JOČR minus the big band horn section at that time).
The line-up is very similar to most of the earlier 1970s JOČR/TOČR recordings. Aside from the other two original members, Milan Ulrich on tenor sax and Miroslav Koželuh on trombone, we’re hearing the rhythm section Karel Růžička (p), Zdeněk Dvořák (g), Petr Kořínek (b) and Josef Vejvoda (dr). The other saxes were Miroslav Krýsl, Petr Král, Bedřich Kuník and František Kryka. On trumpets: Václav Král, Jiří Hlava, Jan Čapoun and Laco Déczi. More trombones were played by Josef Bažík Pavelka, Jiří Doubrava and Svatopluk Košvanec. And on percussion, you guessed it, there’s the ubiquitous Jiří Tomek.
All JOČR vinyl albums are pretty scarce. But I’ve seen this one on eBay recently so keep on trying, search also for “kamil hala” or “karel krautgartner”. A Kamil Hála CD has been released ten years ago, covering the JOČR period 1985-1995. The years 1960-1966 are documented on this Karel Krautgartner CD. Generally spoken however, it’s quite a shame that the history of this important orchestra and its members is still rather poorly documented both on CDs and on internet; the official Czech Radio Big Band site is available in Czech language only. Anyway, I’ll try to collect as much informations as I can for further JOČR/TOČR posts on this blog (and perhaps later for a Wikipedia entry).