Jazz Highlights at Colours of Ostrava fest, Czech Republic

Written by | Festivals, News

The Colours of Ostrava Festival is a multi-genre internationally-oriented four-day musical event in the Czech Republic always with a few notable jazz artists, but this year the categorizing of groups into genres is confusing on their program. Four jazz artists are listed: Gary Clark, Jr., Jose James, Cedric Hanriot Time is Color, and Mitsune. However, Gary Clark, Jr. is also listed in their list of groups for Punk, Reggae, Soul, Hip Hop and Blues, which is the sole category that he should be in, as well as Pop.

From the four listed, only Jose James stands out as a veritable jazz artist active since 2008 with his debut “The Dreamer” on Giles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings. This New York-based velvety-crooner also made his second album, “Black Magic” on London-based Brownswood Recordings, but this may have hindered him in hindsight. Though he was positively received in the UK and Europe, he was barely noticed in the US, until “No Beginning No End” his third album on Blue Note (in 2010).

José James | Photo by Janette Beckman

James is not shy to admit some of his fellow American influences, and he has devoted entire albums to several including Billie Holliday “Yesterday I Had The Blues” (Blue Note, 2015), Bill Withers “Lean on Me” (Blue Note, 2018) and “On and On” (Rainbow Blonde, 2023), which is his tribute to Eryka Badu, a peer and contemporary High Priestess of Soul music. His 12th recording “1978” (on Rainbow Blonde) was released in April, and it is his most crossover album, listed as R&B/Soul on music apps.

Most notable for Jose James’ performances upcoming at the Colours Festival in Ostrava is that he will be performing twice, both exclusive midnight shows in a cylindrical-shaped indoor hall called Gong. Tickets for shows in Gong should be obtained in advance for a symbolic surcharge, but this ensures seating in an intimate atmosphere and with a highest-sound-quality above standards of a typical venue.

Curiously not listed in the Jazz category for the festival is Irreversible Entanglements featuring Moor Mother, which is a free jazz unit that harks back to “We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Suite” (1960) with Abbey Lincoln controversially on vocals. Moor Mother is less a vocalist than an activist poet in the vein of The Last Poets or outside of music circles, Wanda Coleman. As a Philadelphia-based artist collective, they are certainly beholden to jazz elders of Philadelphia, The Archestra, led by Marshal Allen, who just turned 100 years-old and still active carrying on the torch with the music of Sun Ra.

Irreversible Entanglements feat Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother) | Photo by Piper Ferguson

Irreversible Entanglement are also influenced by the late 60s Impulse recordings of Alice and John Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders. Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother) is the leader with bassist Luke Stewart, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, saxophonist Keir Neuringer, and drummer Tcheser Holmes for their self-proclaimed “spiritual conversation” and “a séance,” but for a revolution, in their case.

Still with a political punch their newest album “Protect Your Light” (Impulse, 2024) departs from the improvised free-jazz of earlier efforts. This one is a tighter and more accessible or uplifting groove session with even a few jazz dance tracks, such as “Free Love,” and a made-for-Mardi Gras New Orleans voodoo celebration with the title track. The ceaseless artistic spirit for freedom of Charles Mingus is best recalled on “root <=> branch” which midway through becomes a psychedelic jazz fury. Irreversible Entanglements is only listed on the Colours program for the Full Moon Stage, a Czech music magazine dedicated to promoting younger and experimental artists, so they do belong there too.

Khruangbin | Photo courtesy of the Festival.

Just one more notable act not at all recognized in the jazz genre but instead known as a world-music infused funky-psychedelic rock in the name of Khruangbin, who are a young trio from Houston, Texas that conjures an intoxicating brew influenced by faraway lands (for the band a least), like Persia, North Africa, the Middle East, India, Thailand, Mali, Peru, across the Pacific islands, and not so-far-away lands like Mexico; so as a solid gold Tex-Mex psychedelia revamped with a feminine touch led by bassist Laura Lee (Ochoa), guitarist Mark Speer, and drummer DJ Johnson. Their new album “A La Sala” (2024) is a mostly instrumental session recorded in their farmhouse studio, so back to their roots.

However, in general, reviewers fail to point out that there is a Latin-jazz-rock influence in Khruangbin, and one so obvious due to the group’s Texas and Mexican roots, namely Carlos Santana, and especially in his later experimental recordings, so beginning from his 1972 fourth album “Caravanserai,” with its monumental, and spiritually-guided slower building progressive jazz excursions. Khruangbin even selected “Illuminations” by Santana and Alice Coltrane (a cosmic-free jazz recording from 1974) as the opening track for “Late Night Tales: Khruangbin” a DJ mix album from 2020 curated by Khruangbin. It makes sense, as any of the most obscure psychedelic funk-rock groups that Khruangbin so admires, from Singapore to Kathmandu – these rebel musicians are all indeed influenced by Santana, as a Mexican (American) icon, who has had a global influence rivaling Hendrix and Bob Marley. For the festival, Khruangbin is listed in Rock, Soul and Funk, but they could become Global-Psychedelia-Jazz.

The Colours of Ostrava International Music Festival, in the northeastern region of Moravia, nearby Poland combines popular music headliners with more obscure independent artists with an overall program that encourages global perspectives. There are also film screenings, art exhibits, and outdoor and in-door stages for variable weather. It is one of the summer festival highlights of Central Europe.

More information can be found here at the festivals website.

Tony Ozuna is Art Director and senior lecturer for the School of Journalism, Media & Visual Arts at Anglo-American University in Prague.

Last modified: June 3, 2024