Horňácká Muzika Petra Mičky & Jiří Hradil Hrubá Hudba
Indies Scope (www.indies.eu)
Review by Andrew Cronshaw
This is a truly great album. It’s also culturally significant, but don’t let that give you the impression it’s in any way ‘worthy’ sounding. It’s glorious, beautifully mysterious music, soaringly uplifting but also evoking deep historical melancholy and a vision of the richness of Central European folk music in general and in particular that of the small region Horňácko in Moravia’s Hodonin district. It’s in the south-east of the Czech Republic, close to both the Slovak and Austrian borders, roughly midway in the 130 Km between between label Indies’s Moravian base Brno and Slovak capital Bratislava. Cultures don’t stop at borders, so there’s a lot of kinship between this music and that of Slovakia.
It’s a double CD. On the first, Rugged Music, are Jiří Hradil’s treatments of studio and field recordings he’s made of songs from a variety of male and female traditional singers, with the instruments of his fiddler colleague Petr Mička‘s Horňácko Band, the sort of string band that still plays at village events in Moravia and Slovakia comprising slithering fiddles, kontras (violas) and bowed bass, here sometimes joined by clarinet, cimbalom, trumpet and flugelhorn, foot-stamping boot-slapping ‘verbŭnk’ dancers and a robust men’s chorus. The second is of a set of songs, some of them to be found in another form on CD1, from traditional singers, accompanied by Mička‘s band but without Hradil’s input except as recordist/producer.
To get an idea of the sort of thing Hradil does, here are his notes (from the English translation of the booklet) to the first two tracks:
"A Rock Crashed Down"
“A Rock Crashed Down” - “We recorded Petr Mička’s Horňácko Band in the Veselí studio and then I thought about it and did the rest in my own studio, Mezzanin. We recorded the basic track and then the musicians playing their parts separately, so that I could do the arranging without hearing the instruments overlapping each other. My aim was to change the classic form of the song and give it a gradual development in which I’d slowly infiltrate, gradually take on its mood and continue in this new form to the end. In the song I used a sampled horn from the Faroe Islands, which has a lovely glissando that induces a feeling of mild dissonance. And then a synthesizer, a Hammond organ and the hypnotic rhythm of the percussion.”
The result opens with a strong solo male voice, expanding to group vocals, accompanied by abrasive dronal kontra opening out to the band’s full strings, then joined by a muted drumkit pulse, regular then irregular under the soaring slow vocal melody. The kit disappears, leaving just the vocals joined by surging keyboards that take over anthemically when the vocals drop out.
"Around The Mill"
“Around The Mill” - “In the music production I kept the natural rhythm of the ‘sedlácká’ songs: using a tempo map I transformed it into digital form so I could then add percussion and electronic music governed by the tempo map. In this way I created a kind of ‘Horňácko two-step’ that mirrors exactly the musicians’ changes in tempo. Kato comes in at the climax of the ‘sedlácká’ songs, delivering his rap and linking the world of Horňácko with the world of hip hop music.”
Here the male chorus reaches high against slithering fiddles, joined between verses by bubbling clarinet, the sound becoming more massive as the song progresses, and the percussion and bass enters as the tempo picks up, emphasising the spirit of a viola-chugging village band. And, lest the mention of a rapper (Kato) fills you with cliché-dread, it works perfectly well, sounding rather like a village lad bringing his youthful contribution to the party.
In the love song “Belovéd Hill,” Anna Šajdlerová’s voice floats enchantedly over a bell-like Fender-Rhodes chime, before the strings open out into misty wide-screen. The ‘verbŭnk’ dance song Why Did You Marry, Anička begins with the male chorus and the stamping and slapping sounds of the male dancer over a slow piano and bowed bass melody before speeding up into a mad wild brass scrabble. Each track has a different approach, all of them strikingly innovative, powerful and rich in sound and interest while deeply sensitive to the form and feel of the traditional music and its singers, bringing out their essence rather than making a superficial modernist mash-up.
CD2, Voices From The World Of Old, doesn’t have Hradil's developments, but is lovely in its own right. Traditional singers accompanied by members of Petr Mička‘s Horňácko Band, it’s essentially the product of the work of Hradil and Mička, who describes it thus:
“In close cooperation with Jiří Hradil, who thinks along the same lines as me and who contributed greatly to the vision of this disc in terms of its music and sound, the decision was also taken to record these interpreters for the most part in authentic acoustic spaces (a church, an old cottage, a barn, the homes of some singers and the simple outdoors), which by their very nature were – and of course still are – closest to where folk song, singing and music belong. But these settings also bring with them certain acoustic challenges. So in the recordings you’ll also hear the ordinary noise of these spaces – or the reverse, the everyday sounds of the surrounding world of nature. These are all left quite unashamedly as is, for example, singers’ coughing or – quite understandable, given their age – their vocal indisposition. We don’t regard these realities as in any way limiting. On the contrary – we’re more than happy to offer you this attempt to capture the singing and music, and to convey the atmosphere, as truthfully as possible, the variety of sounds included. Ultimately even an untrained ear will have no trouble in recognizing that almost every recording has its own distinctive sound. The different types of songs, every singer and the various groupings of musicians resounded in the given spaces differently, in their own distinctive fashion.”
"The new bells of Kuzelovské"
It is indeed full of atmosphere, with fine songs and personalities of the ten singers (eleven including Mička, who as well as playing fiddle on most tracks takes a vocal part on the final track). Despite Mička’s mention of coughing or ‘vocal indisposition’, that’s not much in evidence; don’t expect something rough or difficult, the singing is wonderful and emotional. Most of the singers are of the older generation but some are younger – one a lot younger, 11-year-old Jan Pavlík. There’s also an a capella choir singing, in Hrubá Vrbka’s Protestant church, a funeral hymn in the old call and response way.
This album came to me in digital form for potential review, but it’s one I have to have a physical copy of to cherish. - Andrew Cronshaw