Jaromír Honzák: “Hard To Understand” (2020) CD Review

Jaromír Honzák is a jazz bassist and composer from the Czech Republic. He has been performing and recording for several decades, was a founding member of the group Naima, and now leads his own quintet. His new album, Hard To Understand, features mostly original compositions. Joining Jaromír Honzák on this release are David Dorůžka on electric guitar, Luboš Soukup on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Vít Křišťan on keys, and MartinNovák on drums. The CD case, by the way, is like a softcover book, its pages containing several photos.

The album opens with “François Truffaut,” and immediately you get the sense that Jaromír Honzák’s music not only sets a mood but tells a story. My introduction to François Truffaut was not any of his excellent films, but rather his appearance in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind when I was a child. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I discovered The 400 BlowsShoot The Piano Player, and Day For Night. However, it is probably his film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 that has most often been on people’s minds lately, what with our government in the hands of a demented would-be dictator who is completely averse to knowledge and who has probably never even read a book from cover to cover. This track first creates a fairly relaxed atmosphere, and then seems to dive in to take closer looks at certain details, and that’s when things get interesting. The musicians each shine during their leads, and in particular there is some really good work on piano. But for me that rhythm is where the real appeal is. I love Martin Novák’s work on drums here. That’s followed by “Just Thinking,” which begins in a sort of tense place, feeling tight, claustrophobic, and then opens up into a wider space, where it is given more room to move, but still has to fight that tension. And it does seem to win at moments. Many of us are caught in our own heads these days, unable to take part in any social activities, and sometimes it gets fairly dark in there. How can we help it? Things get a little crazy in this track too, though there is still that urge to get a handle on our own thoughts, creating an interesting effect. David Dorůžka is a driving force here on guitar.
“Rain Cloud” begins with some good, expressive work by Jaromír Honzák on bass. I’m not sure if it’s due in part to my rather fragile state these days, but this track gets right on top of me. There is a dark strength, and I feel like succumbing to it. You know? Toward the end, there is a break, however, and it feels like we’ll make it through after all. This is a powerful and excellent track, one of my personal favorites on this release. It is followed by “Simple Truth,” which has a lighter, friendlier aspect to it at moments, and some interesting changes. Toward the end it becomes darker, heavier, but in its last moments it lets go, eases up, and we can relax again.
There are two tracks on this album that were not composed by Jaromír Honzák, both of them being adaptations of a medieval piece of music titled “Clausula Tamquam Sponsus.” The first, “Tamquam,” is rather pretty, though perhaps a bit chaotic. I had to look up the meaning of “tamquam.” I took Latin in fifth grade, and have forgotten all but a few words. Anyway, it means “as” or “as it were.” That first version is followed by “Hard To Understand,” the album’s title track, and there is something kind of pretty about this track as well. It has a comforting, relaxing quality as it begins. It builds from there into something exciting, but still beautiful, particularly the work by Luboš Soukup on saxophone. “Cryptic” is an interesting track, another of my favorites, in part because of its trippy quality (fans of the Grateful Dead will understand just what I’m talking about). There is a great appeal to the strange journey this track takes us on, seeming to go both outward and inward simultaneously. Then “Foolish Senior” comes on almost like a rock song, with its steady groove, certainly something of a surprise. The track then develops from there, and takes some interesting turns. It is a journey where things might halt momentarily, but that groove works to carry us onward, to push us forward. Or are we working to keep that groove going? The album concludes with a second approach to “Clausula Tamquam Sponsus,” “Tamquam 2,” this one adapted by Jaromír Honzák with Luboš Soukup. It begins in a darker, stranger place, the piano then emerging from the mist and shadow.
CD Track List

  1. Francois Truffaut
  2. Just Thinking
  3. Rain Cloud
  4. Simple Truth
  5. Tamquam
  6. Hard To Understand
  7. Cryptic
  8. Foolish Senior
  9. Tamquam 2

Hard To Understand was released on CD on March 27, 2020 (and I believe it was made available digitally on December 20, 2019).

Michael Doherty
Review link: https://michaelsmusiclog.blogspot.com/2020/04/jaromir-honzak-hard-to-understand-2020.html

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