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The fountains of cognition

Mahagon – Prameny poznání
from album “Slunečnice pro Vincenta van Gogha”, 1980, Supraphon 11132684
produced by Jan Spálený, Pavel Kühn & Květoslav Rohleder
original LP sleeve, designed by Vladimír Jiránek
Mahagon might already be a known name to more experienced collectors of funk. They were one of the few quite straight Czech funk-jazz fusion groups of the seventies and their self-titled long play album from 1977 rightfully became a sought-after collector’s item.
The band was the brainchild of bass player, composer and arranger Petr Klapka (1955) while he studied composition at the Prague Conservatory. In the early 1970s he founded Mahagon initially as a singer/songwriter folk duo (!) with his classmate and future Bohemia keyboarder Jan Hála. But soon they became influenced by popular brass-rock groups like Blood Sweat & Tears or Chicago, thus the line-up logically expanded to a much larger combo. Klapka usually had an excellent taste in choosing his sidemen: one of the first lead singers was “Mr. Soul” himself, Michal Prokop. Unfortunately that period remained undocumented on records. (Once more… It seems to me that Michal Prokop must have had an extraordinarily bad luck through the seventies in that regard, being often in the right place but mostly at the wrong time.) On the Mahagon debut album, recorded in 1977, you can hear for example Klapka’s schoolmate Michael Kocáb on keyboards, ETC members Jiří Jelínek on guitar (who died tragically soon thereafter) and violinist Jan Hrubý, as well as a large horn section around jazz saxophonist Jiří Niederle. At that time a significant number of the players were also members of the Prague Big Band (Pražský big band) of keyboarder Milan Svoboda, yet another Klapka’s schoolmate from the conservatory.
After adding his wife and ex-C&K Vocal singer Zdena Adamová (1952) to the line-up in 1976, Klapka occasionally began to slip into the pop music genre. He featured Adamová on several Supraphon and Panton seven inch sides between 1976 and 1979. Not all of those singles are a must-have, but I’d still point out the Mahagon debut recording Půlnoční bál/Červené korále. In 1979 Klapka joined the ex-Apollobeat leader, composer and Supraphon producer Jan Spálený for his solo album Signál času (The Signal Of Time), a funky jazz-rock adaptation of poems by Vítězslav Nezval. Although the band name “Mahagon” was used, the studio group had transformed almost completely.
The second and last regular Mahagon album Slunečnice pro Vincenta van Gogha (Sunflowers For Vincent Van Gogh) has been recorded in 1979, too. But yet another transformation happened: what we hear on this record is actually the forthcoming 1980s edition of Pražský výběr, but with Klapka on bass! (The original, jazzy Pražský výběr/Prague Selection combo of the 1970s was in fact the complete rhythm section of the Prague Big Band – hence the band name – and thus the Mahagon connection here isn’t all too surprising.) So, Kocáb is back on the keys, ex-Bohemia Michal Pavlíček played guitar and Jiří Hrubeš was drumming. Further musicians were the ex-Elektrobus and ex-Expanze percussionist Naďa Vávrová as well as a seven-piece horn section. And there’s of course Zdena Adamová, who sang lyrics by Pavel Vrba on most of the tracks.
Unlike the 1st LP, the album concept is rather uneven though. A little bit of pathetic pop here, a slice of hard rock there, homeopathic traces of jazz all over. Yet Prameny poznání (The Fountains Of Cognition) stands out as one of the only two instrumental tracks and as a straight funk jazz tune in almost Hancockish manner. This is Klapka at his funkiest. My other favorite would be A kámen tu nechám (And I’ll Leave The Stone Here), a wicked funk rock song with Adamová’s expressive vocals.
Klapka and Adamová emigrated to the U.S. in 1981. They are [were] running a private music school nowadays.

Posted in Funky Czech-In

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