Culture | Music

Jonathan Karstadt interviews Czech Jazz Group ‘Limbo’

21/06/2014

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One thing certain about Limbo is that the Czech band’s name is totally apt. Straddling the border between musical forms and inspirations, the group defies easy classification in terms of musical genre. “None of our music is written down,” explains bassist Taras Vološčuk, “It’s improvised music; at first we wanted to play more free jazz, avant-garde stuff, but we somehow changed our way and started to improvise more in a song form, experimenting with many different kinds of structures.”

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Despite being firmly rooted in the often esoteric tradition of experimental jazz, Limbo’s sound is wholly accessible even to listeners without a highly-trained ear. The ensemble’s influences are thoroughly diverse; Vološčuk and the band’s other founding member, saxophonist and bass clarinetist Pavel Hrubý, were initially inspired by their mutual love of Charles Mingus, but during our conversation, Vološčuk also mentions J. S. Bach, Dmitry Shostakovich, Ornette Coleman, Astor Piazzolla and Igor Stravinsky among others. Building on motifs drawn from this wide range of sources which also includes eastern European folk and oriental music, the group are able to synthesise a sense of familiarity even as they push boundaries.

“Our music is always a work in development. If something works at one concert, we are all trying to remember it the next time,” Vološčuk continues, “In the 90’s I heard a beautiful programme on BBC radio about Shakespeare, and I realised that theatres at that time never had any rehearsals, and actually we have the same approach, and I think it works.” When asked about the Czech jazz scene, Vološčuk is generally upbeat: “I think the jazz scene is really young in the Czech Republic, and it still needs time to improve. 18 years ago I thought Czech jazz music was 20 years behind the rest of the world, now it is 10 to 15 years behind. We have a lot of wonderful musicians and the situation is improving a lot, but musicians need to play more outside the country and get more exposure.”

Understandably, he is far from upbeat about the current political situation in his native Ukraine, something which may influence a change in direction for his own career in the near future: “I’ve been playing with this band for ten years now and it is really important for me because I’ve grown up with the band and it’s given me a lot of ideas. But with the current situation in Ukraine, it is really important that musicians react somehow, not playing songs about something that doesn’t have any connection with the present day.”

Playing at Soho’s Spice of Life club, the ensemble’s first outing in London, Limbo gave a frenetic and at times breathtaking performance. While the solos were sometimes a little too lengthy, the group displayed a nuanced balance of technical virtuosity with passion and inventiveness, and it would certainly be no bad thing if we get to see more of the band on the London stage.

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‘Limbo’ appeared at the Spice of Life as part of an ongoing programme of Czech music events in London organised by the Czech Centre. 

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