‘Razz or jock?’ – Czech and South African musicians launch genre-defying new album

04-06-2009

The Jonathan Crossley Band is what you get when you ask two Czechs and three South Africans to make a mixture of rock and jazz. The outcome is being warmly received by crowds from Prague to Pretoria. Since they formed a year and a half ago, the group has toured Europe, Africa and beyond and, on a recent trip to Johannesburg - part funded by the Czech Foreign Ministry - the band recorded its first album, called ‘Got Funk, Will Travel’.

I caught up with guitarist and front man Jonathan Crossley on a recent tour of the Czech Republic and asked him where this strange and wonderful idea came from:

“This is part of an ongoing experience where a mutual friend of the bass player Lukáš Kytnar and myself, a mutual friend of ours in Belgium, decided to hook us up. He’s got a knack for finding people who are kind of compatible. So Lukáš and I became friends and he has got a passion for the project. And this has been going now for a year and a half, and we have done roughly, I would say, 30 shows in the Czech Republic and Slovakia over the last year and another ten in different places.”

What have you made of this experience that you have had this past year and a half in the Czech Republic and Slovakia? It has been rather unexpected…

“It is completely unexpected, and of all places, it is unheard of for South Africa and the Czech Republic to be having this conversation. But I think that sociologically there are some interesting parallels. Because South Africa has obviously come out of apartheid and is a new economy with a new, completely new, and fresh ideology. And so the majority of South Africans who come to the Czech Republic recognise some parallels and similarities in the whole mindset and the whole way that this culture functions. So although it is unusual, interestingly for us, there are similarities.”

What does a South African-Czech jazz collaboration sound like, if you had to describe it?

“[Laughs] We don’t know. What we decided is that now it has become something between jazz and rock, so we haven’t decided whether to call it jock or razz. So, we’re open to votes on that one.”

And I hear that you have just recorded an album in South Africa?

“Yeah, we have just recorded a record. We have some demo copies with us at the moment, but it looks like it is going to come out on Amplión records here in Prague. That will probably be before we return again at the end of July.”

What do you make, as a South African musician, of a Czech audience in comparison to a domestic South African audience?

“Oh now, there, there the whole functioning of music industry has no similarities with the industry here. I mean the two guys, Ondra Štveráček and Lukáš Kytnar came to South Africa in February for a tour, and it was very difficult to explain to them how we would go about it. We basically did a show in Cape Town, Grahamstown, East London and Johannesburg, oh and Plattenberg Bay – that’s another place – but we had to travel around the country with a full PA system, we hired the venues ourselves, we rigged the PA, we did the advertising and then we took 100 percent at the door, which is a completely foreign system to the one here where you have a club circuit. So the wonderful thing about being here is that you have a club circuit which allows you to develop the project, but the flip-side is that in South Africa you only ever have big shows, we never have shows in clubs, because there are none, there are none in Jo’burg.”

The story goes that Jonathan Crossley and his band found their sound when playing in Prague to a club full of tourists who were expecting some of the better-known jazz staples. To liven up a lacklustre evening, Jonathan and co started playing about with distortion and feedback, which may have disappointed those looking for Gershwin, but which gave the band a few ideas.

Lukáš Kytnar is the group’s Czech bassist. He says that things just clicked when he started performing with Jonathan:

“It’s hard to describe. I just feel comfortable around these guys. And as well, for one year I lived in Ireland, in Dublin and Belfast, and Jonathan’s origins are from there, so that could be part of the vibe. We are very good friends.”

Can you tell me about the album you just made?

“The album – there wasn’t actually much time for it, because we did the album on the last day of the tour in South Africa in March, it was like a two-week tour which we did there in Johannesburg and Cape Town and some other cities. And the last day we had there, we bought some time in the studio and recorded the album and in the evening we flew back to Prague.”

Would you say that there are some South African elements in the music you are playing now as a result of the tours and the collaboration you have embarked upon with Jonathan?

“I guess so, I guess that there must be something, because the impact of the African culture and nature was really, really big and really, really nice. I was really blown away in a positive way by the nature, by the people, by the ocean. It was really beautiful.”

And how does the Czech and Slovak tour that you are currently on compare to the recent tour you made of South Africa?

“There are a lot more knedlíky and cabbage on this tour. We are working on different things and merging the band together more than at the beginning of the tour in South Africa. It just feels more comfortable, I guess, for all of the musicians to play together after so many gigs.”

And where next, or what next, for the band?

“Actually quite a big thing. We go to a festival in Turkey on Thursday, where we will play two gigs, on Friday and on Sunday. It is in a small town called Afyon which is in the middle of Turkey, inland, and there is a jazz festival there at which we are going to play, so we are really excited.”

The Jonathan Crossley Band will be back in the Czech Republic for a series of concerts in July. For more on their unusual blend of funk, post-rock and jazz, go to their MySpace profile: http://www.myspace.com/thejonathancrossleyelectricband

04-06-2009