Live reviews

Emil Viklický – Songbook feat. Imogen Ryall & Julian Nicholas at the 606

Emil Viklický – Songbook featuring Imogen Ryall & Julian Nicholas

(606 Club. 27 April 2023. Live review and photos by Charles Rees)

Czech pianist/composer Emil Viklický has enjoyed a successful career over the past five decades, recording and performing with such names as Bill Frisell, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and founding member of Weather Report, fellow Czech Miroslav Vitouš. He has had many appearances in around the UK during that time,including an important collaboration with the late Bobby Wellins. The latest at 606 is a project co-led by vocalist Imogen Ryall and saxophonist Julian Nicholas.

As Viklický explained, this was a project started in 2020 during the lockdown. Ryall took up the challenge of setting lyrics to some of his compositions and the Moravian folk songs he has become synonymous with, as well as some compositions by Nicholas.

Their first set was entirely comprised of such pieces, like “Not Yet” – one of Viklický’s better-known pieces – and Nicholas’s “A Thousand Ships”, which he recorded with Viklický in 2008 for the pianist’s 60th birthday. In other words, a major theme of the night – or at least the first set – was old bottles, new wine; the latter part of the analogy coming in the form of Ryall’s lyrical reimaginings.

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The inclusion of mostly standards in the second set gave it somewhat of a different feel from the first. Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” set the tone with an extended instrumental introduction arranged by Nicholas. They also put a different spin on the great ballad “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, opting for a medium burn kind of feel. This contrasted the Czech folk song that preceded it, performed as a sombre ballad, effectively. Ryall deserves extra credit for performing that song with Czech lyrics – Viklický assured the audience that her pronunciation was excellent.

One of the tunes had a significance that dates back to the origins of this collaboration: “Porthcawl” is another composition of Viklický’s which he wrote in dedication to the town in South Wales where he was invited to teach at the ‘Welsh’ Summerschool in the early-mid 90s. Nicholas was also a tutor on that course and it was here where they first encountered each other. Nicholas especially shined on his composition “One January Morning”, playing a perfectly-judged soprano solo that the audience seemed to really get swept up in.

The rest of the band was comprised of Czech bassist Petr Dvorský, who travelled over from Prague with Viklický, and drum duties were supplied by Eric Ford. Both have worked in various iterations of this lineup and were thus well at home in the setting. It was mentioned that both will join Viklický, Nicholas and Ryall in the studio later this week to record the project.

Their gig at 606 was a compelling glimpse into what seemed to be the early stages of a project with a recording presumably to follow. This was an enjoyable and intimate evening that went down a treat with the audience.

RELATED ARTICLES: George Mraz (1944-2021). A tribute by Emil Viklický

Album Review: Moravian Romance from 2018

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