In the liner notes for his latest jazz release, Czech Dreams, Skip Wilkins writes: “And so, this recording is in many ways a love story, a dedication to the Czech People, and to some of my closest friends anywhere on this small planet.”
Wilkins, associate professor of music, composed the tunes on Czech Dreams in Prague and Brno during a sabbatical in the Czech Republic. He recorded the album with the Skip Wilkins Quartet, featuring Czech musicians Libor Šmoldas on guitar, Tomáš Baroš on bass, and Tomáš Hobzek on drums, in two days at Studio Svárov in Prague. The disc also features guest saxophonist Rostislav Fraš and vocalist Marie Puttnerová.
Wilkins wrote the 11 tracks specifically for this ensemble, wanting to capture the energy of some of the best young musicians in the Czech Republic. The result is a resounding success. All About Jazz calls the effort “an impressive sophisticated offering of European-flavored modern jazz designed to reach across the ocean with its worldly appeal.”
His favorite track on the album, “You Will Find It,” began as a sort of dare. Puttnerová suggested that he write a tune for her to sing. He composed an original piece reminiscent of a Moravian folk song, a nod to Puttnerová’s native Morava, the southern province of the Czech Republic and home to a rich singing tradition.
“I love the way the band played this tune,” says Wilkins. “Each member had a kind of statement of the melody. That was it. No particular improvisation, just various statements of the melody, some different textures. In performance, this piece really floors the audience every night. It is very subtle and moving. I found ‘it’ here in the Czech Republic.”
The Czech Republic has become a second home for Wilkins. He spends every summer there, as well as an annual January residency, teaching at workshops and performing at venues ranging from live television to large concert halls to intimate clubs. Last year, he played at the final Jazz na Hradě (Jazz at the Castle) to honor former president (and jazz lover) Vaclav Klaus’ two terms in office.
Wilkins also performs in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Slovakia, and Greece. Last summer, he was appointed artistic director of the First International Jazz Workshop in Kryoneri, Greece. Next summer, he plans to add dates in Italy, Croatia, and Bulgaria.
One of Wilkins’ most successful endeavors has been Trio WUH, comprised of Wilkins, bassist František Uhlíř, and drummer Jaromír Helešic, which features “underplayed chestnuts” from the Great American Songbook. Of his 13 European concerts this January, 10 were with Trio WUH, and he expects to play about 40 more dates this year with the group. This year, the trio will release its first album, Trio WUH Live in Jazzinec, recorded during its February-March 2013 tour.
“I want to play everywhere,” says Wilkins. “I love the road because I love what happens when you walk into a new venue. The night is young. Nobody knows what will happen. This is a good life for me.”
Wilkins will give a free performance with guitarist Tom Kozic 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5, at the Williams Center for the Arts. He also will play with the Skip Wilkins Quintet 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, at the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap, Pa. Cost is $7.
Photos © Alžběta Jungrová / New Port Line Records
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