Live Jazz: EU Jazz at U.C.L.A.’s Schoenberg Hall

By Don Heckman

The global reach of jazz is on full display this weekend in EU Jazz at UCLA, which is presenting 11 jazz groups from 10 countries. The program, which began Thursday night at Schoenberg Hall, continues through tonight (Sunday).

Preceded by a cocktail party and buffet at the Istituto Italiano Di Cultura, the Thursday night concert featured the Janusz Prusinowski Group from Poland and the Emil Viklicky Trio from the Czech Republic.

And it was the far-ranging musical choices of these two ensembles that illustrated the stunningly creative impact that jazz has had, and continues to have, in countries around the world.

Start with the Prusinowski Group, a five-piece ensemble led by multi-instrumentalist Prusinowski, who sang and played violin, dulcimer and Polish accordion. The other players, who also displayed multiple instrumental skills, included Piotr Piszczatowski (baraban drum and frame drum), Szczepan Pospieszalski (trumpet), Piotr Zgorzelski (folk bass and dancing) and Michal Zak (wooden flutes, shawm and clarinet).

The Janusz Prusinowski Group

There were few moments in the Prusinowski set that drew directly from either the genre categories or the dialects of jazz. The linkages, instead, traced to the common ground of traditional roots, improvisational invention and rhythmic propulsion. The soloing of Pospieszalski and Zak occasionally verged toward phrases with blues-like intervals; the team of Piszczatowski and Zgorzelski kept the Polish dance rhythms alive; and the compositions – with titles that translated into phrases such as ”The Drum Was Knocking,” “Maria was Walking” and “Across the Woods, Lads” – reflected their Polish origins in the way they were written and the way they were played.

All these qualities were underscored by the Prusinowski group’s irresistible blend of musicality, imagination and enthusiasm, delivered with a dynamic spirit reminiscent of prime jazz creativity.

The second act on the bill – the Emil Viklicky Trio – took a very different path. Pianist Viklicky, backed by bassist Dustin Morgan and drummer Richard Weller, led a group deeply influenced and equally inspired by the jazz piano trio genre.

The Emil Viklicky Trio

Playing a selection of tunes reaching from traditional themes to originals by Viklicky, the Trio delivered everything in high energy fashion, largely driven by the drumming of Weller. And while one can’t fault Weller’s non-stop enthusiasm, the musical subtleties that are usually present in the piano jazz trio genre were largely overwhelmed by drumming that reduced many of the pieces to continuing repetitions of emotional excess.

That said, the overall program had many intriguing musical moments to offer. At its best, the concert gave an occasionally limited, but always fascinating view of the many varied attractions of EU jazz.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.

The EU Jazz at UCLA series finishes up tonight (Sunday) with afternoon performances by Hungary’s jazz vocalist Orsi Sapszon with pianist Balint Sapszon, Austria’s Georg Breinschmid’s Brein’s Cafe, and the Italian jazz trio of pianist Dado Moroni, bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Andrea Marcelli. For more information about Sunday’s EU at UCLA program, click HERE.

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