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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

Interlude: Vampi Czech-In, part 1

2009-09-19

It’s been a long time in the making… Almost two years, to be precise. So, in case you were already wondering what the author of this blog has been doing during the past twelve months, here it is:

On October 5, 2009, Vampisoul Records is releasing the first two compilations conceived, researched, selected, compiled, documented, designed and laid out by yours truly

Ne! The soul of Marta Kubišová

The soul of Marta Kubisova

Vampisoul VAMPI 114 (2LP) + VAMPI CD 114 (CD digipak)

Tracks:  Tak dej se k nám a projdem svět, Svlíkám lásku, Já tu s tváří neměnnou, Bílý stůl, Tvůj krém tvůj nůž tvůj růženec (You Came You Saw You Conquered), Kdo ti radu dá, Tajga blues ’69, Hare Krišna (Hare Krishna), Chci právo trubky mít, Legendy, Já cestu k tobě najdu si, Tys bejval mámin hodnej syn, Ne, Jakoby nic, Nepiš dál, Ten zlej páv, Modrej vřes, Zlý dlouhý půst, Ten druhý v nás, Balada o kornetovi a dívce, Na co tě mám, Vrba, Pojďte pejskové, Nejsi sám kdo doufá (Face It Girl It’s Over), Červencové ráno.
Featuring Marta Kubišová with the Golden Kids Orchestra, Mefisto, Waldemar Matuška and others. Twenty of these songs are being reissued on vinyl for the first time.
From our promo material: “Marta Kubišová was the most popular Czechoslovak female singer of the late 1960s, heading for an international career but banned by the communist regime until 1989. Compiled from the Supraphon archives, this 1966–1970 selection focuses on her roughest songs, with plenty of fuzz guitars and funky beats, punchy horns and razor-sharp organs underlying her deep and soulful voice.”

The funky way of Emil Viklický

Funky way of Emil Viklicky

Vampisoul VAMPI 115 (2LP) + VAMPI CD 115 (CD digipak)

Tracks: Trochu funky (The Funky Way), Týden (Week), Ještě jednou slunce (Once Again Sun), Květen (Maytime), Kam s tím blues (Chega de Saudade), 70. východní (East 70th Street), Boston, Zelený satén (Green Satin), Hromovka (Thunderhouse), Země plná lásky (A Land Full Of Love), Zase zapomněli zavřít okno (They’ve Left The Window Open Again), Siesta, Jumbo Jet, Ráno (Part 1 Kash Edit) (Morning).
Featuring Viklický/Frisell/Driscoll/Johnson, Karel Velebný’s SHQ, Eva Svobodová, Energit, Emil Viklický Studio Big Band. All tracks are being reissued on vinyl for the first time, SHQ and Eva Svobodová also for the first time on CD. Four tracks by Emil’s big band are even previously unreleased!
From our promo material: “Emil Viklický is one of the most renowned Czech jazz musicians and composers. This focused-on-funk selection was recorded between 1975 and 1987 in Czechoslovak studios. Be it with the legendary SHQ or with Energit, accompanying Eva Svobodová, conducting a tight studio big band or collaborating with fellow Berklee College students Frisell/Driscoll/Johnson, Emil knows how to funk up his keys all the way through.”

All tracks have been carefully digitally remastered from 24-bit transfers of the original analog master tapes by fellow blogger and “anti-loudness-warrior” Ian Shepherd.

The records should be available in good record stores near you. In case you should have difficulties to obtain them, be it on vinyl or CD, please let me know.

Interlude: Spanish Czech-in

2007-11-28

Sometimes I wish a day had at least thirty-two hours. So much music, so little time, as they say. Thus it happened that it’s been almost two weeks since Funky Czech-in was “on tour” in Madrid, Spain, and so this post is not exactly hot news anymore.

Anyway: thanks to Iñigo of Vampisoul we were guests on Charlie Faber’s insane radio show Sateli 3 live on Radio 3. The house was smokin’ and the receivers were explodin’ all over Iberia while we were airing hottest Czechoslovak bigbít from the sixties and the seventies! Only the best tracks were played, including some stuff that you already know from here. I hope to get the recording of the show soon to post it here as an MP3 stream. In the meantime tune into Sateli 3 live every evening from monday to friday, 9 to 10 pm CET. And while you’re already surfing, you may want to check out the nicely retro-designed funky site of Charlie’s friends at www.canora.es.

Lou Kash and Charlie Faber

Lou Kash and Charlie Faber in a RNE studio (photo: © Iñigo Munster)

Until the full recording of the show arrives, here’s the first song that I’ve played:
Karel Vlach Orchestra – Tančíme twist
from 7 inch split single Supraphon 013434, around 1963

a generic 7" Supraphon sleeve from the 1960s
a generic seven inch Supraphon sleeve from the 1960s

Recent posts

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
2008-06-04: The best disco in town

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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.