Smile Baby Smile (2016)
Pavel Wlosok Trio & NYC based guitarist Paul Bollenback team up on this latest 2016 CD album release full of positive & happy music.
It was Pavel’s idea, which he happened to share with me, to record an album in which his Fender Rhodes electro-acoustic piano sound would blend with the sound of the jazz guitar. According to him, both instruments complement each other extremely well and offer completely different combinations of colors than the more commonly known combinations of guitar with Hammond organ or, guitar with the acoustic piano. So, when Pavel first met American jazz quitarist, Paul Bollenback, in 2010 during their teaching at the summer jazz workshop in Prague, Czech Republic, he began to seriously consider making this project a reality. Paul has been among the very top main-stream jazz guitarists in the USA for some two decades now and his collaboration with jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco turned out to be exactly the type of experience Pavel needed for this project.
The rhythm section consists of two young, but very talented musicians, living in Western North Carolina, a place I personally had a chance to visit and found extremely beautiful. Zack Page is one of the best bassists currently living in Asheville. He is the type of bassist who is inspiring and communicative, with very strong time feel and willingness to accompany to 100% of his abilities. The drummer Evan Martin, who is a few years younger, is rather an introvert type of a musician, and who is generally more comfortable playing rock music. He was, however, a great choice for this project for two reasons. First, he approaches playing the jazz drum set in a percussive way, which leaves enough space in his accompaniment for another percussionist to be added without making it sound too busy. Secondly, his drum set setup is organized in a very unique manner. Percussionist Byron Hedgepeth has been Pavel’s friend for many years now, and is equally comfortable playing a melodic percussion, a drum set, as well as Latin percussion. Tracking of his percussion work was done toward the end of this project using the standard studio technique of overdubbing in Pavel’s home studio in Western North Carolina. This allowed Pavel full control over the entire process of not only recording Byron’s playing but also picking individual instruments and selecting from the variety of grooves Byron had to offer.
This album begins with an optimistic arrangement of a well-known jazz standard My One And Only Love. Harmonic structure of this piece is pretty much left intact with a few exceptions, which in exchange helped this arrangement achieve a more modern sound. This standard 32-bar song form is extended at its end by six bars, which become part of each improvisation chorus. The opening theme of this arrangement was given to the double-bass, and one can notice intricate percussion work during the coda section.
A nicely fitting original by Paul Bollenback entitled Invocation, and one of three original songs of his on this album, has given Pavel a brand new experience as Paul, the composer, required him to play the melody as much behind the beat as possible. This sixteen measures long song is built of four four-measure long phrases. The rubato section of the melody, which creates a contrast to the steady pulse of the rhythm section, makes this piece quite interesting.
Storyteller is Pavel’s original waltz, which fuses elements of jazz pianist Bill Evans‘ harmonic language along with McCoy Tyner’s melodic approach. Formally speaking, this song is somewhat complicated, as well as irregular, consisting of five naturally inter-connected sections. It is one of those pieces, where both featured soloists can communicate with each other by improvising at the same time during an extended Coda. It is a concept reminiscent of the early Jazz music in New Orleans and often heard by Dixieland bands of today.
Another original by Paul is his positively charged Billy! – a song which oscillates between Latin and Swing styles. The form is pretty traditional A, A‘, B, C except for the introduction which becomes part of each improvisatory chorus. Besides the swinging part C, all other parts are performed in Latin/Bossa Nova style and remind me of music from the 1960s (Art Blakey, Horace Silver).
Structurally short ballad by Paul entitled Breathe has a surprise hidden inside in regards to the rhythmic subdivision changes made during the improvised choruses. This piece of music gives both main soloists the chance to decide about which subdivision they prefer to use at what time during their improvisation – either ballad-like straight eight feel, or twelve-eight Afro-Cuban.
Everything Happens To Sphere is a ballad, which Pavel dedicated to the legacy of the great composer and pianist, Thelonious Monk, whose nickname was Sphere. This composition’s foundation was taken from another standard called Everything Happens To Me but both the melody and harmony were completely reworked and changed. It was Pavel’s goal to capture Monk’s dissonant philosophy in this composition. Paul Bollenback did a great job improvising over these changes. After recording this track, Paul had actually mentioned that: “this is a mine field even for the most advanced improvisers“.
McCoy’s Mood is a nice medium, laid back swinging tune, which is performed in a comfortable dancing tempo. This piece features rather lighter melodic development and harmonic connections, which one would often hear in the 1950s. This piece was first recorded by the famous One O’clock Lab Band of the University of North Texas in Denton, where Pavel was a student in the 1990s.
The ISIS Blues is a very slow, twelve-bar blues, which combines elements of melancholy and sadness, along with those of optimism and hope. It’s captures Pavel’s performing memory at ISIS music club located in Asheville, NC from few years ago. This club was founded a long time before the rise of the Islamic State and the name similarity is purely coincidental. In part, this song resembles the modal period started by Miles Davis‘ famous album Kind of Blue from 1959. Paul‘s guitar fills work at the beginning and the end of this piece is truly exceptional. The concept of Call and Response of the late 19th Century Blues is clearly heard in this arrangement.
The final song Smile Baby Smile is another one filled with positive energy and optimism. It was composed shortly after Pavel’s first born daughter Victoria Sara came to this World in 2003 and represents a very happy period of Pavel’s family life. The form of this song is also interesting – a 16-bar introduction is part of each solo chorus and in addition serves as the ending for each soloist, and all the three remaining sections of A, B, C use basically one main theme and its variation throughout. We call this mono-thematic approach to composition. This technique was a favorite one of primarily Classical period composers, such as Mozart, or Beethoven, but can also be heard in the music of their predecessors Vivaldi, or Bach.
One of two main tasks when producing this album was to create music that is optimistic, accessible, and would therefore capture a wider audience, regardless of what hard times of economic and political instability we live in these days. The second main goal was to create music, whose artistic value would not diminish over the course of time, without the need of it being commercially successful or overly simplistic. And to be able to combine these two rather contrasting goals into one cohesive result as represented on this album certainly wasn’t an easy task. As for me, I can say that everyone involved in this project has done very well. Actually, why don’t you take a listen and make up your own mind about all this...
Petr Marek (July, 2016)
Alternate Reality (2014)
Grammy Award winning tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin joins Pavel Wlosok Trio on this new musical quest. Powered by NYC rhythm section of Mike McGuirk on double-bass and Andrew Swift on drums.
Pavel Wlosok has lived in the USA for over twenty years now. He’s led the jazz program at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC since 2002. Before that, he studied at the University of North Texas in Denton, where we used to meet as students and where I was able to witness his relentless drive to be successful in the world of jazz. In addition to his achievements in music, Pavel’s passion for other art forms, such as photography and recording, has helped him approach his personal productions from several different perspectives. He had the entire production process of this album under his control, from the selection of the music and the placement of microphones, to the mixing to tape, and finally, the digital mastering.
While recording equipment can help the sound overall, the foundation of all musicians is in the way they project their own unique sound. All four musicians have already become masters of their own sound. Donny McCaslin’s signature sound is apparent after just the first few measures of his playing (this is a dream of all jazzmen), and it is not just the color of his sound but also his unique and original phrasing and the development of his melodic lines. Just listen to the final track “Memphis Redux,” where you can hear a domination of a very strong and down-to-the-earth bluesy melody so typical of Donny’s writing.
However, the majority of the material on this album was composed by Pavel, who selected four works of his own and added four infrequently played standards. It’s not an easy task to combine music from the standard jazz repertoire with original modern pieces, as the author himself has mentioned: “Conceptually speaking, this must have been the most difficult albums I’ve ever put together.” One of Pavel’s compositional advances is his ability to combine modern elements into a more traditional approach without either element clashing with the other. Take notice when you listen to the title track, “Alternate Reality,” where a very consonant introduction (sonically reminding me of the purity of Christmas carol melodies) is quite naturally and organically followed by a rather complicated, intertwined web of rhythmic and harmonic ideas, only to end the composition in the way it originally started. The first track, “Hopeful Fool,” on the other hand – according to the composer’s own words – captures the art of Thad Jones’s legacy, although I must admit that I’m also hearing a modern American approach, which I’ve heard previously in both Donny McCaslin’s and John Ellis’s compositions. The swinging, medium tempo of “Hopeful Fool” would give any rhythm section an opportunity to show how well they can swing and both Mike Holstein and Marian Sevcik deliver. On this song, Pavel demonstrates his vast knowledge of the jazz idiom, delivering a pleasantly phrased solo, which prepares the listener’s ears for what is to come on the rest of this album. The next piece, Pavel’s “Little One,” connects a high-energy ostinato with a light melody dedicated to Pavel’s first-born daughter, Victoria. “Cullowhee Blues” (also composed by Pavel) mixes a straightforward modal yet bluesy harmony with a lightly avant garde melody, whose unorthodox style is that much more emphasized by the unison arrangement between the piano and the saxophone.
After multiple listens, I can’t help but notice that the band’s most relaxed tracks are indeed standards without overly complicated arrangements. All the musicians on these tracks show spontaneity and unrestrained energy. Listen, for example, to “Inner Urge” and you’ll agree with me. McCaslin’s solo is exceptional and sets a very high bar, although Pavel’s solo is not far behind, especially with the addition of the rhythmic and melodic storyline elements that are typical of his approach. We may as well notice Mike Holstein’s virtuosic bass solo, which sounds almost as if Mike wanted to remind Pavel about the strong heritage of the “Czech” school of jazz bass. Even the more lyrical and slower songs by Hancock (“Speak Like a Child”), Ellington (“Prelude to a Kiss”), and Hudson/Mills (“Moonglow”) fit nicely into the mood of this group. These musicians are simply not afraid of playing ballads at very slow, yet swinging tempos. It’s on these songs where the true level of their musicianship is demonstrated and where the excellent timing and phrasing become apparent.
I’ve been puzzled by the title of this album. After listening to it I still could not figure it out. Especially when the natural sound of this album and the way it has been produced shows an experienced, organic group of players and gives impression that they all have played together for a long time. Therefore I went ahead and asked the leader: “Alternate Reality is of course the title track of the entire album, composed specifically with Donny McCaslin in mind. The album itself has two sides to it. The first is lyrical and tonal, while the second is complicated and abstract. In a way, it represents an escape from today’s overly complicated and corrupted world, where negativity and the drive for power and control seem to be on the winning side. Hence the title.” So don’t hesitate: transfer yourself into the alternate reality.…
Brooklyn, NY based Joel Frahm on saxophones, powered by rhythm of Steve Haines on double-bass and Bill Campbell on drums, Pavel introduces six originals and one of Joel's, reflecting on life in early 21st Century.
Pavel Wlosok, pianist, composer, and educator, is a little bit older, than the large generation of today’s Czech Jazz 30-year olds. He was born in 1973 and first studied classical piano at Janacek Conservatory in Ostrava and in 1993 continued studying composition at Janacek Academy in Brno. In 1995 he left his homeland to continue his studies at the University of North Texas in Denton and the United States became his second home. He has had successful appointments at universities and musical academies in various parts of the USA as a performer composer and professor, who is able to venture between classical and jazz music with ease. This is by the way perhaps the best recipe to enable any jazz musician to develop a stronger and lasting position in the country where jazz first originated. The combination also allows an environment in which to be creative and financially independent, rather than trying to make a living only through solo or combo performances.
On his jazz album entitled Czechmate, which was recorded and mixed in Western North Carolina and released on the Czech-American label Newportline, Pavel has an invited guest tenor and soprano saxophonist, Joel Frahm, who is about four years older than he is and who originally grew up in Wisconsin. During his high school studies, Joel was a classmate of Brad Mehldau and at the beginning of 21st Century received a Down Beat award as a “rising star”. His diversified way of playing features vibrant, original sound, which alternates Coltrane-like runs with lyrical passages, although quite personal is his innovative staccato approach even during faster and fluent passages. As a soloist he is the dominant performer on this album, highlighting the talent of Pavel Wlosok as a composer and the creator of this original project.
The first track on this album Fragments is actually written in a classical format of theme and variations, which was composed in a retrograde style (back to front). The main theme appears at the very end of this piece and before it we hear five varied “paragraphs”, which serve as variations. Those variations however connect from one to the next so naturally, that the listener hears the piece as one fluent whole.
The composition St. Hainesville, dedicated to the composer’s classmate and bassist Steve Haines, oscillates between minor and major sounding parts, and brings in an equal division of an octave concept (in this case three major thirds), first introduced by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. The listener will probably perceive this piece as a lighter rendition, although not quite scherzo, with the glimpse of a lighter and restful sounding mood.
Natalia is the first of several compositions inspired by author’s personal experiences. It’s been dedicated to his 2nd daughter Natalia Michelle. This song is supposed to reflect a mood connected with a child’s innocence, tenderness, and purity. And this is precisely the role for Frahm’s gentle soprano saxophone sound. Wlosok had disclosed that he truly appreciated the way Frahm managed to capture this particular mood in his performance.
Brooklyn Minute is yet again a colorful memory coming from a completely different experience. It reflects a trip to a more expressive area, which comes from ostinato-like forward moving rhythmic figures. This piece was inspired by the cooperation of the drummer Bill Campbell playing with Pavel. However, even in this piece the rhythmic passages are mixed up with more lyrical sections, just like our lives bring both poles to the table, and we simply can’t live without one or the other.
Sadness Within again brings a contrasting, and dramatically different pole. The author’s effort here is to capture a mood, which as he says, touches the very bottom of our psychic powers. The author believes that all human beings face this exact situation from time to time. The piano solo in this track is probably the longest and also the most impressive. At first, Joel Frahm sensitively continues with the mood set forward by the pianist, only to explore it with his own variations and experiences. Moments of depression are being exchanged with those of exciting tightening. After the reminiscent and intoxicant atmosphere of Brooklyn, where life and living goes on at its fullest, it is yet another contrast, which our lives constantly have to face day in and day out.
In the piece Czechmate, besides the second chess-like word “mate”, the word “Czech” plays an important dual role. The author considers this piece as a reflection of his momentary state of progress as a composer and performer, but also as his own view of today’s World. These are the inner feelings and emotions of personal discomfort with the way our World functions today. These feelings, due to various reasons, are experienced not only by today’s jazz musicians, but also all people of this planet, Czech as well as in the Americas. In a way, this composition is in part aggressive, but at the same time can’t offer any solution to the crisis for people living in today’s society.
This motion however at least in part is fulfilled by the last track on this album, composed by Joel Frahm and entitled Sister Julie. It is overall quite positive music. Wlosok’s intention was to close out this album of various moods and feelings, which all of us encounter in our daily lives, with a belief, that just as our own lives continue on their paths, so does Jazz, which has been around for more than a Century. Jazz musicians in all parts of this World constantly work to improve of this concept, yet only a handful of them manage to do so with such conceptual and compositional clarity, as Pavel does.
Live At The Grey Eagle (2012), Jubilee Suite
John Riley on Pavel's music: " Your music is sophisticated but clear and fun to play - this is a rare combination.
Long Journey (1997) MP3 only
"Long Journey" was recorded at Crystal Clear Sound by Keith Rust & features Pavel's musician friends from the time of his studies at the University of North Texas with special guest Ed Soph on drums.