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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.

Without her

2007-01-12

Helena Vondráčková & TOČR – Jsem bůh i ďábel (Without Her)
from album “Ostrov Heleny”, 1970, Supraphon 1130839
produced by Bohuslav Ondráček & Vladimír Popelka

Václav Týfa & Konstelace Josefa Vobruby – Bez ní (Without Her)
from album “Václav Týfa”, 1975, Supraphon 1131599
produced by Oskar Jelínek, arranged by Vladimír Popelka

VondrackovaH_Ostrov_a_128 TyfaV_Konstelace_a_128
original LP sleeves (Vondráčková/Týfa)

Here is a “double feature” with a “triple connection”: both tracks were conducted by the TOČR leader Josef Vobruba (1932-1982), co-produced by arranger Vladimír Popelka and both are cover versions of the same song, Without Her by Harry Nilsson. Nilsson’s original from 1967 is a very minimalistic version with its cello accompaniment, other mostly softly arranged renditions have been recorded for example by Blood Sweat & Tears, George Benson or Glen Campbell. Aside from his songwriting, Nilsson also became quite “famous” as John Lennon’s drinking buddy in the mid seventies.

Regular readers will surely remember my Vondráčková entry from last December when we dived deep into her jazz-rock phase. Jsem bůh i ďábel (I’m The God As Well As The Devil) is not nearly as funky as that. It’s pure easy listening pop with a very light touch of bossa nova. The “funkiness” lies more in tiny details as well as in the atmosphere. I like in particular the brilliant dynamic arrangement which precisely illustrates the excellent original Czech lyrics by old maestro Zdeněk Borovec. The story is a confession of a seductress. At one moment she’s soft and lovely, the next second she burns you with passion. She’s the god and the devil, Cain and Abel in one person and she promises you both heaven and hell at the same time. Yeah guys, there’s definitely no hypocrisy on the lady’s part since you’ve been warned. This here is the hottest version of Without Her that I know.

Jsem bůh i ďábel comes from Helena Vondráčková‘s second solo LP Ostrov Heleny (The Island Of Helena, not to be confused with her English export album The Isle Of Helena), recorded between 1969 and 1970. It’s the album’s only track that has been produced with the TOČR (a.k.a. JOČR) orchestra. All other songs are credited to the Golden Kids Orchestra & Chorus – which of course includes Marta Kubišová and Václav Neckář, for more info on them check out my first Marta Kubišová post (and more is about to come later this year). Ostrov Heleny is a much softer album than Kubišová’s classic Songy a balady or both Golden Kids LPs, however. You can buy a CD online including 9 singles only bonus tracks or get the vinyl from a Czech auction site. Some singles are still available in my web shop, too, if you search there for “vondr”.


The trumpet player Václav Týfa (1943) oscillates between pop and jazz. His career started in 1962 in the Karel Vlach Orchestra. In the early 1970s he switched to the backing band of Karel Gott, the Ladislav Štaidl Orchestra. At the same time he also worked with Josef Vobruba’s TOČR/JOČR. In 1974 Vobruba set up and conducted an all-star album project named Konstelace (The Constellation). The member list on this first effort is indeed stellar: besides Týfa there are Radim Hladík (Blue Effect, ex-Matadors) and Petr Janda (Olympic) on guitars, Jiří Urbánek (Flamingo) on bass, Rudolf Rokl (Štaidl Orchestra) on Hammond organ, JOČR members Zdeněk Dvořák on guitar, Karel Růžička on piano and drummer Josef Vejvoda, Miroslav Kokoška (Czech TV Orchestra) on marimba, the flutist Jiří Válek (who got to record his own Konstelace solo album two years later) as well as jazzmen Ivan Dominák and Jiří Kysilka on percussions and Karel Velebný on vibes. Obviously the original concept of the project was to produce a series of albums that would feature exceptional soloists who were working in contemporary Czech pop/jazz orchestras at that time. But as far as I know, no other Konstelace albums apart from Týfa’s and Válek’s have ever been released.

Although Týfa later recorded lots of solo tunes for radio, TV or for movie soundtracks, this LP actually remains his only solo record to this day. He blows his trumpet in many shades, using lots of overdubs and sound effects, even a wah-wah pedal on some tracks. Side one is an original jazz-rock suite in six parts, Loutna česká (The Czech Lute), written by the arranger and co-producer Vladimír Popelka. On side two Popelka selected and re-arranged six tunes from the Blood Sweat & Tears repertoire like Mama Gets High, So Long Dixie, or the obligate Spinning Wheel which fortunately received an unusual jazzy treatment in 6/8. Without Her on the other hand has been funked up a lot, although I could live fine without the cheesy vocal parts since all other tracks sound fine without them, too…

These days Týfa works again with the Czech Radio Big Band or with the Vlach Orchestra and he can be heard on various CDs, too. The Konstelace vinyl album is really tough [now easy] to find online, unless you are willing to pay real BIG bucks to these Japanese guys. But while the record may be “über-rare” in Japan, in Prague I’ve seen it many times for a Euro or two.

Rings on the water

2006-12-11

Helena Vondráčková & Jazz Q – Kruhy na vodě
from album “Paprsky”, 1978, Supraphon 1132350
arranged by Martin Kratochvíl, produced by Jan Spálený, Mojmír Balling & Květoslav Rohleder

VondrackovaH_Paprsky_a_128 VondrackovaH_Paprsky_b_128
original LP sleeve (front/back)

Helena Vondráčková is without doubt the number one Czech female pop star. With more than 40 years in the show biz she’s one of the few still active and still successful veterans from the early days of contemporary Czechoslovak pop music. The complete Vondráčková story is well documented on this English fan site, so I won’t go much into details here.

Although she had plenty of top hits in the 1970s with a lot of airplay and TV appearances, her regular albums were neither really great nor very popular, partly because they were too mainstream oriented while lacking obvious hit material. This may have been the reason why she teamed up in early 1978 with jazz-rocker Martin Kratochvíl to record Paprsky (Beams), an album without hits, too, but with lots of exciting and funky music. It wasn’t her first collaboration with jazz musicians though, ex-SHQ Luděk Švábenský and his Strýci (a.k.a. Šest strýců) used to be her live backing group in the mid seventies, recording a couple of pop 45s and a quite nice easy listening album in 1974.

Paprsky was recorded by Kratochvíl’s regular group Jazz Q with František Francl, Vladimír Padrůněk (1952-1991) and Jaromír Helešic, including a few guests: Michal Gera, Jiří Tomek, Vladimír Merta, Petr Kalandra and Oskar Petr, who also wrote most of the lyrics. Kratochvíl was responsible for all keyboards, arrangements and most compositions. A few songs were penned by Vondráčková’s younger brother Jiří Vondráček. Interesting fact in this context is the direct connection to the folk-rock group Marsyas, which I have featured on Funky Czech-In in October: Marsyas used to play live gigs with Jazz Q; Kalandra and Petr appeared on this album; Petr left Marsyas and became Jazz Q’s lead singer (until his emigration in 1979) while Helena’s brother Jiří Vondráček on the other hand joined Marsyas as Petr’s replacement…

Back in the days this LP was considered a very experimental project for a pop singer like Vondráčková. Today it may sound more conventional than originally intended, but compared to her other outings from the late seventies and from the eighties it’s still the one Vondráčková album that you might want to own. Paprsky is available as a double CD including the 1980 pure disco album Můzy (Muses a.k.a. Music) which is quite a logical choice. Get it e.g. on cdmusic.cz or on supermusic.cz, you can listen to Ogg Vorbis samples on this official discography page. For vinyl try eBay. Oh, by the way, a couple of her vinyl records from the sixties are available in my web shop, too (items no. 482, 964, 1194, 1197 and 1213).

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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.