In the 20th century, jazz artists were influenced by a wide variety of world music -- everything from Brazilian samba (Stan Getz) to Middle Eastern and Indian music (John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef) to Swedish folk (Jan Johansson). Jazz/world fusion still offers endless possibilities; regrettably, too many of hard bop's unimaginative "Young Lions" are too busy playing the same old Tin Pan Alley standards the same old way to try anything new. But if you're seeking something fresh from jazz, George Mraz's Morava is well worth exploring. Recorded in 2000, this gem finds the Czech bassist successfully combining jazz with traditional Moravian folk. Some of the songs are instrumental, but most of them feature Czech singer Zuzana Lapcíková -- a soulful, charming artist who is also known for playing the cymbalom (a dulcimer that is used in Eastern Europe). All of the lyrics are in Czech, although Milestone/Fantasy provides English translations. It isn't every day that you hear Czech lyrics and jazz rhythms at the same time, but the two prove to be quite compatible. Morava isn't the first example of a jazz artist looking to Eastern Europe for inspiration -- Swedish pianist Jan Johansson recorded an album of Russian folk songs (Jazz in Russian), and in 1999, Helen Merrill incorporated Croatian elements on Ana Jelena Milcetic, aka Helen Merrill (which employed Mraz on double bass). But even so, it's safe to say that post-bop/Moravian fusion isn't something that the jazz world has been inundated with. Consistently risk-taking and exploratory, Morava is among Mraz's finest accomplishments.
by Alex Henderson