Saturday, October 27, 2007

All that jazz

One of the things Prague is justly famous for is its music scene. It's coming down with Jazz and blues clubs which host live bands on pretty much every night of the week.

within spitting distance of the Old Town Square there are two excellent clubs in particular - AghaRTA (that is how they spell it!) and Ungelt.

Linda and I went to Ungelt on Thursday evening. On our previous visit we'd seen the Petr Zeman Quintet which is superb. He was playing again last week in a couple of places but we got to see Chicken Soup, a jazz/fusion band featuring a guitarist with fingers so fast and flexible that at times they are just a blur on his fret board, a Herbie Hancock influenced keyboard player, a sax and flute player of great dexterity and a rhythm section to die for.

They played some standards - Miles Davies and John Coltrane in particular - as well as a collection of scintillating original compositions.

It cost a fiver to get in, the beer was cheap and excellent, the atmosphere was great and it was a non-smoking cellar (making the atmosphere even more pleasant). It was so compact that I could ruffled the bass player's hair from where I sat (I didn't, of course, as I thought he might have found it irritating).

I can't think of anywhere in the UK where you'd have access to music of this quality and quantity in the middle of the week - can you?

Jazz seems to be part of that spirit of improvisation and free thinking that makes Prague such a magical place. In his account of the revolutions of 1989, Timothy Garton-Ash described what happened in Czechoslovakia (as it was then) as 'the most delightful of all the year's central European revolutions: the speed, the improvisation, the merriness and the absolutely central role of Vaclav Havel'. Havel is a playwright and poet and one who frequented jazz clubs through the dark night of Czechoslovakia's oppression following the aborted Prague Spring of 1968/9.

For me the jazz clubs are still places of non-conformity and inclusivity - even though they now cater for the tourists as much as the locals (most of the audience last Thursday were English speaking visitors or their Czech hosts). It would be a tragedy if they ever got homogenised.

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