Nikol Bóková – Unravel(Animal Music, ANI 087-2. Review by TJ Abbonizio)
The word ‘maheeb’ in Arabic refers to a specific kind of beauty in nature, one that is striking to the point of being almost frightening. There are moments during Unravel by pianist and composer Nikol Bóková that will take a listener to that place, to a haunting sort of beauty.
Bóková is a classically-trained Czech pianist whose technical prowess and compositional talent are obvious. With Unravel she brings these talents into her recent exploration of the world of jazz. The album is a follow-up to her debut Inner Place, which brought nomination for an Anděl Award for best jazz album last year, and is inspired by her renditions of some of the great classical composers, with the title track Unravel dedicated to Maurice Ravel.
Unravel encompasses Bóková’s range from sweeping classical solo piano movements to intricate jazz tunes backed tastefully by members of Purple is the Color: Martin Kocián on acoustic bass and Michał Wierzgoń on drums. The chemistry between these players is simply fantastic, and the album is full of standout moments and tracks.
Ballade After Byrons Manfred, Op. 2 opens the album beautifully with Bóková’s solo piano classical roots. At times frantic, at others passionate, this track encompasses the haunting maheeb beauty of a stark and undeniably striking winterscape. Sergei probably best illustrates the range of Unravel in one track, with both classical piano and jazz opening up into a great ‘Brad Mehldau covers Radiohead’ feel. Bagatelles “In a Forest”, Op. 42, No.1 “Trails” and What the Forest Tells No.1, “Awakening of Birds in the Morning” sit on the album’s extremes of menacing and peacefully light-hearted. Both Golden and the title track Unravel showcase Kocián and Wierzgoń’s symbiosis with Nikol Bóková’s playing and composition. If the listener is deep into jazz but wants to expand, those tunes are great places to start as a gateway into classical piano.
Put simply, Unravel is a fantastic record. Nikol Bóková is clearly a talent worth watching, and, however she progresses, Unravel will absolutely stand on its own as a great piece of work. Bóková has presented something evocative and powerful here; it’s also hard to imagine a better record for the ears as we head into colder months.