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George Mraz
Milestone (

cd cover Although George Mraz is listed as the leader here, the session really belongs to pianist-arranger Emil Viklicky and vocalist-cymbalomist Zuzana Lepcikova. These are songs based on or inspired by Moravian (eastern Czech) folk music. But this music is given a definite jazz spin by Viklicky's outstanding arrangements and the solid rhythm section of Mraz and drummer Billy Hart.

Lepcikova has a beautiful, somewhat plaintive voice that sounds like it would also do well with more traditional settings of this music. Here she's backed by an empathetic jazz trio, and it works. This reminds me a lot of John Taylor and Norma Winstone's Azimuth project, maybe with Miroslav Vitous subbing for Kenny Wheeler. Viklicky is an accomplished pianist, handling a range of material from sensitive ballads to up-tempo swingers, although the average tempo seems to be somewhere around medium to medium-slow. The occasional appearances by Lepcikova's cymbalom add a strange and interesting tinge to a familiar sound-world. There aren't any real avant-garde elements here, but the combination of ingredients adds up to an unusual and delightful CD. - Joe Grossman

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