Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019

by Ian Mann

December 17, 2021


An absorbing set featuring some excellent playing and embracing a broad range of influences from jazz to folk to classical. There’s a quiet eloquence about this music.

Emil Viklicky / Miroslav Bukovsky / John Mackey


(ABC Music / Galen)

Emil Viklicky – piano, Miroslav Bukovsky – trumpet, flugelhorn, John Mackey – tenor saxophone

“Wangaratta” is a concert recording documented on November 4th 2018 at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues in Australia. It was recorded for broadcast by the radio station ABC and now appears on disc courtesy of the Czech record label Galen.

The album features the Czech / Australian trio of pianist Emil Viklicky, trumpeter Miroslav Bukovsky and saxophonist John Mackey. It was kindly forwarded to me for review by Emil Viklicky, so my thanks to him for that.

Viklicky’s name is the one that is likely to be most familiar to British jazz audiences. I have always harboured a fondness for his playing since first hearing him on a trip to Prague way back in 1994. Viklicky is now very much the ‘elder statesman’ of Czech jazz and is a player and composer with an international reputation. Slightly more recently I have enjoyed seeing him perform at both the Brecon and Cheltenham Jazz Festivals and his UK visits have also taken in the Porthcawl Jazz Festival. Among his numerous international collaborations have been the “Magic Eye” and “Zahadna” albums with the American brass and reed multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson.

Viklicky was born in Olomouc in the former Czechoslovakia in 1948. He graduated in mathematics at Palacky University in 1971 but was always a keen amateur jazz musician and gradually began to establish himself on the Czech jazz scene. Eventually the music took over full time and he studied jazz at the famous Berklee College of Music in the United States.

Returning to his homeland he based himself in Prague and since 1989 has released over thirty jazz albums as a leader or co-leader, working in a variety of musical contexts and instrumental formats and with both Czech and international musicians.

I purchased a couple of his early releases on my trip to Prague, “Homage to Joan Miro” (1989) and the excellent “Beyond the Mountains, Beyond the Woods” (1990). Later, when I got to see him play in the UK with his superb trio featuring bassist Frantisek Uhlir and drummer Laco Tropp, I acquired copies of the live albums “Trio ‘01” and “Cookin’ in Bonn” (2006), both recorded by this terrific line up.

More recently I have reviewed the album “One, Two, Three, Four”, a live recording featuring an Anglo-Czech quartet comprised of Viklicky and bassist Peter Dvorsky plus the British musicians Julian Nicholas (tenor sax) and the late Dave Wickins (drums).
Review here;

This was followed by “Between Us”, an intimate duo album recorded during lockdown in August 2020 and released in 2021. Viklicky is teamed with the reed player Pavel Hruby, here specialising on bass clarinet. Review here;

In addition to his jazz output the prodigiously talented Viklicky has also composed a number of classical works, including an opera based on the writings of Vaclav Havel, and he has also written for film, television and theatre.

I have to admit that Bukovsky and Mackey were previously unknown to me. I’m grateful to the album liner notes, written by Jaroslav Riedel and translated into English by Tomas Frgala for providing biographical details of these musicians plus insights into the nature of the project.

It’s Bukovsky’s story that binds this ensemble together. He was born in the old Czechoslovakia and studied both jazz and classical music in Ostrava, graduating from the Janacek Conservatory in 1967. He then played with various big bands, small groups and orchestras before emigrating to Australia in 1968 at the time of the ‘Prague Spring’. Bukovsky’s uncle was already living in Sydney, having re-located there in 1952, and it was the presence of family in Australia that encouraged Bukovsky to make his own move. He then began to establish himself on the Australian jazz scene, playing a variety of trad, swing and hard bop and also taking up a teaching post at the Jazz Faculty of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Viklicky and Bukovsky first met in 1990. The trumpeter was a regular visitor to Europe at this time, playing the festival circuit with his band Wanderlust. Opportunities to play in the Czech Republic were limited however, especially for the full band. Both men were aware of each other’s playing and Viklicky invited Bukovsky to Prague to appear as a guest soloist with his trio at the city’s famous Reduta Jazz Club. It was Bukovsky’s first visit to his homeland for twenty two years.

The chance to perform together again came many years later when Viklicky was invited to Australia in 2018 by the Czech ambassador to participate at a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Czech Republic. This helped to create the opportunity for Viklicky and Bukovsky to perform at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, with saxophonist John Mackey added to form a distinctive and unusual trio line up.

Bukovsky and Mackey go back a long way, the saxophonist having been part of the Wanderlust group. The pair also played together in the band Ten Part Invention and in other ensembles around Sydney and Canberra. The have also been teaching colleagues at the Jazz Faculty of the ANU (Australian National University).

Viklicky is a prolific composer and his writing has always been informed by the influence of Moravian folklore. The programme on Wangaratta features his arrangements of two traditional Moravian folk tunes. It also includes two original compositions by Viklicky, plus his arrangement of Leos Janacek’s “Clarinet Theme from Sinfonietta, 5th part”. The repertoire also includes two original compositions by Bukovsky, both originally written for the Wanderlust and Ten Part Invention groups.

The album commences with Viklicky’s arrangement of the traditional “Ej, lasko, lasko” (“Oh Love, Love”), introduced by Viklicky at the piano, shortly joined by Mackey’s tenor sax and then by Bukovsky.  The mood is hushed, fragile, reverent, the melodic folk motif the platform for Mackey’s thoughtful, fluent tenor solo. Bukovsky follows on what sounds like flugel, the pic on the album sleeve features him playing this instrument, which is particularly well suited to this ‘chamber jazz’ setting. At the heart of the music is the piano and we also enjoy an elegant passage of unaccompanied playing from Viklicky before Mackey and Bukovsky return to restate the theme.

Solo piano also introduces Bukovsky’s “Delicatessence”, the pianist establishing a gentle left hand groove that underpins the composer’s graceful, lyrical flugel solo – there’s a definite hint of Kenny Wheeler in his playing. Mackey follows on tenor, his tone more forthright this time round, but still effortlessly fluent. Viklicky’s piano solo combines an expansive lyricism with an underlying command of rhythm and the performance concludes with a beguiling series of exchanges between the three musicians that are warmly appreciated by the Australian audience.

The second adaptation of a traditional Moravian folk tune is “Videla jsem meho holubka siveho”, which translates as “Gray Pigeon”. Taking their cue from Viklicky the trio combine to state the beautiful, if somewhat melancholic, theme before embarking on their individual solos, a pensive Mackey going first. He’s followed by Bukovsky, who soars elegantly above Viklicky’s underpinning piano motifs. The pianist then embarks on his own lyrical solo excursion before the trio eventually coalesce once more.

Viklicky’s interest in Moravian folk music was inspired by the classical composer, Leos Janacek (1854-1928), who also explored similar themes in his work. The trio give a stately reading of Viklicky’s arrangement of Janacek’s “Clarinet Theme from Sinfonietta, 5th part”, while still turning it into a convincing jazz performance via the solos of Mackey on tenor, Bukovsky on trumpet and Viklicky at the piano.
Interestingly Viklicky first wrote this arrangement at the behest of Wynton Marsalis who suggested that Viklicky included motifs from Czech classical music in his “Czech Suite”, written for Marsalis’ big band.

Bukovsky’s “MDD” was written as a tribute to Miles Davis. It opens with a passage of solo piano, lyrical and pensive, that sets the mood. There’s a Milesian quality to Bukovsky’s muted trumpet, while Mackey’s sax recalls John Coltrane at his most relaxed.

Two Viklicky originals conclude the album, both taking their inspiration from Moravian folk music. “Na kosatej jedi” (“Up in a Fir Tree”) features some impressive ensemble playing alongside characteristically eloquent solos from all three participants. It concludes with a series of joyous trumpet and tenor exchanges, underpinned by Viklicky’s rhythmic piano accompaniment.

The closing “Highlands, Lowlands” borrows from the Moravian folk song “Na horach, na dolach”, utilising a motif that also acted as the source for Janacek’s first string quartet. Viklicky’s strong left hand rhythms acts as the springboard for Mackey’s most powerful solo of the set. Viklicky then stretches out on his own before the trio return coalesce once more on the later exchanges.

The Viklicky / Bukovsky / Mackey alliance has proved to be more than just a one off festival collaboration. In 2019 Bukovsky and Mackey visited Czechia and performed both as a trio and as a quintet, with Viklicky’s regular Czech rhythm section of bassist Petr Dvorsky and drummer Jiri Stivin Jr. added. The pandemic has curtailed further plans, but future collaborations remain a possibility.

Recorded earlier but released later “Wangaratta” represents Viklicky’s second ‘chamber jazz’ release of the year in the wake of the duo set “Between Us”. Like its predecessor it’s an absorbing set featuring some excellent playing and embracing a broad range of influences from jazz to folk to classical. There’s a quiet eloquence about this music, but again there may be listeners who find it a little too bloodless, particularly in the home listening environment. Indeed one can only envy those lucky audience members in the hall at Wangaratta that night. The experience of seeing and hearing this intimate performance in a darkened theatre must have been utterly compelling, with the audience reactions suggesting as much. That said Mackey remarks that the Czech audiences in 2019 were even more enthusiastic than those in Australia!

All in all this is another very classy offering from Emil Viklicky, one of the comparatively unsung heroes of European jazz.

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