Covers are a tricky discipline. A well-grasped remake can elevate the original, but we have dozens of cases where it was a real murder – as the name of Dan Bárta’s joint album and Gustav Brom’s Radio Big Band “I Killed This Song At Karaoke Last Night” suggests. Did they kill?
It would be difficult to find a more prominent personality among our singers, say, the middle generation than Dan Bárta. He always moved well on the edge of the mainstream, but he never gave in to him. Whether he was a rocker in the band Alice, was engaged in Roman Holý’s funk projects Sexy Dancers and JAR, or was looking for a cross-genre expression as part of the Illustratosphere or the Robert Balzar Trio, there was always added value, a different approach to working with a voice that clearly reflected jazz influences and the so-called scat. He was always close to jazz, perhaps closest to the trio of double bassist Robert Balzar, orthodoxly however, it was never jazz (though – what is it?) He always ran, was inspired, mixed styles, genres and approaches.
In a way, he approached jazz – or rather the traditional idea of a large jazz ensemble, not on the platform of a chamber project – only now, on the somewhat unexpectedly released album “I Killed This Song In The Karaoke Last Night”, which he recorded with the most professional, Brno ensemble. Gustav Brom’s Big Band. Bárt’s original plan was to host at last year’s concert held on the occasion of the eighties of the famous group, but covid decided otherwise. The postponed joint performance finally took place at the beginning of November, and this record was released as a bonus. But as is typical for Dan Bárta – and as the name suggests – things will not be so simple or perhaps straightforward traditional. Just the choice of material. All eight items are largely borrowed from artists who have not yet encountered jazz. Sounds like “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics, Rod Stewart’s “Baby Jane” or “Human” from The Killers’ repertoire. Bárta once reached the discography of Frank Sinatra and also recaptured the song “Intropicture”, which he recorded with Illustratosphere. The personal highlight of the collection is the Suchý-Šlitr duo sung “Strand of Hair” (here as “Big Band Twist”). Although the name of the announced karaoke is more of a desperate activity, in Bárta’s performance it is of course a different level. Although the recording was made in a miserable period bound by pandemic measures of all kinds and it is out of the need for virtues, using material prepared for live performance, exudes great joy from the music and enthusiasm for playing with a jazz orchestra. The collection of compositions, which is very disparate in style and period, is connected by a big band arrangement and, of course, Bárta’s singing. None of these elements dryly copies the originals, they play with familiar melodies, they master them in a new context in which they are well. In the big band context, Dan Bárta is calm, moderate, as always focused on expression, sensitive and a modest team player. He has a good time with audiences and has mastered the discipline of traditional jazz with everything that goes with it. The same can be said about Gustav Brom’s Radio Big Band, but, in football jargon, he kicks on the home field. The musicians, led by conductor Vlad Valovič, know when to soften and let the music beat in the background and become just a fine bar band accompanying their frontman (“Big Band Twist”). They know when to push the wind section’s forwards (“Baby Jane”) and when to create a dramatic film atmosphere (“Satan”). The resulting arrangements are rich, detailed (playful flute in the final sinatrovce), but not overpaid and confusing.
It’s hard to blame “I Killed This Song At Karaoke Last Night”. Thanks to the short footage and careful selection of the tracklist, nothing is left over or missing, the album has a tight uniform mood and is decorated with a purposefully made cover. The name may have sprung up in the world, perhaps too inconspicuously or even confidently. Everything here revolves around covers, but the murder of the original songs does not take place. Rather, it is a new life in unexpected forms. A life that quite possibly emphasizes the second meaning of the verb kill, namely do well.