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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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NAJPONK TRIO
Ballads, blues & more
1. For Funky Bobby Timmons (take 2)
2. Autumn Leaves
3. Brother
4. The Street of Dreams
5. What a Difference a Day Made
6. You Look Good to Me
7. Where Are You?
8. Blues for Mr. PV
9. You Don’t Know What Love Is
10. For Funky Bobby Timmons (take 1)
Bonus Tracks
11. Bossa De Luxe
12. Careless Love
NajPonk: Piano
Robert Balzar: Bass
Martin Sulc: Drums
Total Time: 74:13
Recorded in Prague 22 September 1999
Cube-Metier MJCD 2528

NAJPONK TRIO
Autumn in New York

  1. Mr Beautiful
  2. Back at the Chicken Shack
  3. If I Fell
  4. Dreaming
  5. Dream for Two
  6. Nine Eleven 2001
  7. Harlem Waltz
  8. Autumn in New York
  9. Girl of my Dreams
  10. In the Groove
  11. I’ll Remember 21st May
    NajPonk: Piano
    Petr "Mr PD" Dvorsky: Bass
    Martin Sulc: Drums & Percussion
    Total Time: 59:06
    Recorded in Prague August 2002
    Cube-Metier MJCD 2318

    ORGANIC QUARTET

    Don’t Get Ideas
  1. Mr Littleroot’s Green Room
  2. Inception
  3. Blues for Wendy
  4. Humble Groove
  5. Don’t Get Ideas
  6. Quietude
  7. Knick knack
  8. Just Chillin’
  9. Pantheola
  10. Lonely Grey
    Ondrej Pivec: Hammond Organ
    Libor Smoldas: Guitar
    Jakub Dolezal: Tenor sax
    Tomas Hobzek: Drums
    Total Time: 70:21
    Recorded in Karlin, Prague 17 & 18 October 2005
    Cube-Metier MJCD 2630


 

I’d like to review these three discs together for a couple of connecting reasons. The first is that on the second disc "Autumn in New York" there are two tracks written by my cousin Mike Carr the great British Hammond Organist who gave lessons to Ondrej Pivec leader of the Organic Quartet. The second and more relevant reason is that the two groups are from the Czech Republic and all three discs are from a Czech/British company Cube-Metier.

It is great to be able to review 3 discs from that country which I wouldn’t mind betting is pretty well unknown to most in jazz terms. All three discs show it should be better known as a country where exciting new talents are to be found.

"I remember the first time I heard Jan Knop (aka NajPonk)…Other musicians sang his praises with uncommon fervor, but when I first laid eyes on him, I thought they were pulling my leg. Stoop-shouldered and doe-eyed, Jan looked more like a surly choirboy than a musical genius. But when he put finger to keyboard I knew he was the real thing. What a touch I thought, and how he swings!" So writes the US and international journalist Siegfried Mortkowitz in the sleevenote. I concur with that assessment in spades as here is someone who has learned from the styles of the greats in jazz piano and made them his own. There are echoes of Red Garland, Wynton Kelly, Oscar Peterson and of course Thelonius Monk. He knows how to treat a great ballad whether up tempo or bluesy and creates that feeling that you’ve heard the piece before even when it’s an original composition – just listen to ‘For Funky Bobby Timmons’ and ‘Brother’ on the disc "Ballads, Blues and More" or ‘Mr Beautiful’ and, indeed any of his original compositions on "Autumn in New York", especially ‘I’ll Remember 21st. May’. Just spin ‘If I fell’, a John Lennon original, to hear how inventive NajPonk is and what damn good tunes Lennon wrote! There isn’t a single track on either disc which disappoints and I’ll bet a lot of listeners will simply want to play the discs again as soon as they’re over and people will find new and different things to marvel over on every occasion. The disc "Autumn in New York" is a tribute to the city of jazz, and track 6. ‘Nine Eleven 2001’ is a direct homage to that fateful day, however, though bluesy it is not over sentimental but simply a beautiful tune wonderfully played. In all the tunes on both discs he is accompanied by first class musicians, the great bass players Robert Balzar and Petr Dvorsky and by Martin Sulc on drums and percussion. ‘Harlem Waltz’ by my cousin is a great tune and no-one would guess it didn’t emanate from the pen of an US composer as it is so evidently American in temperament. The same goes for his other tune ‘In the Groove’ but then Mike has been writing jazz numbers since the early 1960s so he has been honing his considerable talent over more than 40 years.

It is Mike’s prodigious talent as a Hammond organist that has been passed on to Ondrej Pivec as is self evident on the third disc "Don’t get Ideas". When you realise that the oldest member of the group Organic Quartet is still only 24, and that the "baby" of the group is Ondrej himself at only 22, it is simply wonderment that takes over as you listen. In addition they prove they can compose as well and no less than 6 of the tracks were written by Ondrej himself with the tenor saxophonist Jakub Dolezal penning one and the guitarist Libor Smoldas another two. This group really swings – even the production team said they couldn’t stop dancing in the studio during the recording session! As NajPonk who was involved in this album as Producer says "It is quite a rare thing to hear a great Hammond combo in our part of Europe". Both Pivec himself and Tomas Hobzek study at Prague’s Jaroslav Jezek College and Hobzek is currently a member of the City’s opera orchestra(!) while Libor Smoldas has received a grant to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA. Though Ondrej Pivec only founded the Organic Quartet in 2005, the year this recording was made, the group almost immediately won the Group of the Year in the prestigious Philips International Jazz Festival Competition, while Pivec himself carried off the Best Soloist award. It is difficult to single any one tune out from this brilliant debut disc but I particularly enjoyed ‘Just Chillin’’ with its laid back style and summer sounding harmonies. Have a listen to ‘Pantheola’ to get an idea of how talented they all are and what an amazing guitarist Libor Smoldas is as well as what a great and lyrical sax player Jakub Dolezal is. ‘Lonely Grey’, the last track, is a beautiful ballad that demonstrates both the composing talent of Ondrej Pivec as well as the brilliant sounds each musician coaxes from his instrument. The fact that the great McCoy Tyner’s composition ‘Inception’ sits comfortably with all the other home grown tunes I think speaks volumes for the considerable talent of this marvellous group who I sincerely hope will find the audience abroad that it richly deserves. Look for these discs, and others, on the record company’s website www.jazz4all.com and snap them up!

Steve Arloff



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