Ventana, VEN-3401, 1999
Produced by Radim Zenkl
- 1) WELCOME ABOARD
- 2) REVIVAL
- 3) VENTANA BREEZE
- 4) ONCE UPON A TIME
- 5) TWIN PEAKS
- 6) AURORA BOREALIS>
- 7) AT THE END OF SUMMER
- 8) WINTER TIME IS COMING
- 9) RESTLESS JOY
- 10) LAST CALL
- 11) PEGASUS' DESCENT
- 12) FIREWOOD
- 13) HOME AWAY FROM HOME
"Radim Zenkl brings a great new voice to the mandolin, mandola,
Irish bouzouki and slide mandolin.
Precision, passion and sense of daring - at all adds up to a Restless Joy."
- mandola (6, 8, 9, 11)
- nylon string mandolin (12)
- slide mandolin (7)
- Irish bouzouki (1, 4, 10, 13)
Suzanne Teng - piccolo flute (12)
- pennywhistle (4)
Leo Chern - piano (12)
Paul Donnelly - bodhran (2)
John Hanes - drums (12)
Richard Mandel - guitar (3, 5, 7)
Michael Manring - bass (2, 9, 12)
You hold in your hands another few snapshots of the great talent of Radim Zenkl. I think of them as snapshots because Radim's talent is deep and wide and one CD can't begin to represent or encompass the whole. His music defies pat description and combines echoes of the many styles and players he has studied thorough the years.
The sounds and techniques that he is pioneering and perfecting on the mandolin stretch the boundaries of what we have come to expect from a mandolin player. He uses flatpicking, fingerpicking, alternate tunings and slide work, and blends previously unrelated non-mandolin techniques to produce solo compositions with two and three moving and independent parts. The resulting sounds are less mandolin and more a hybrid of string sounds which incorporate the timbres of mandolin, bouzouki, mandola, and nylon string mandolin. The music by itself breaks new ground, but on the mandolin it is revolutionary.
As you will hear, some of Radim's new snapshots are quite pretty, others pretty amazing, and the rest are simply unbelievable! He's given us a rich palette of sounds, a wide range of mood and emotion, from the intricate solos "Welcome Aboard" and "Pegasus' Descent" to the simple beauty of "Ventana Breeze" and "Last Call" to the varied ensemble pieces like "Revival" and "Firewood". His technique on them all is beautiful, sometimes startling, though it never overshadows the essence of the tune. Radim tosses off 16th notes and difficult finger phrases with poise and ease. I'm convinced that his prodigious playing and thoughtful compositions will influence young musicians all over the world.
Radim's music is truly international in its approach and appeal. His musical and personal background are unlike any other musician I have known. I met him in the late 1980s through a phone call with David Grisman. Grisman said, "Hey man, there's a guy here you should meet. He's a great mandolin player from Czechoslovakia" and he put Radim on the line. At the time I couldn't quite get my head around the idea that there was such a thing, but that's beside the point. A few days later we met face to face, chatted a little, and played some music. I was immediately struck by what he played and the way he played it. His advanced technique and point of view were already evident. Even on traditional American fiddle tunes, a staple of most mandolin player's repertoire, he played with a different intensity and dynamic. His jazz standards had a similar feel.
Some time after, I realized that this was probably due to the fact that he'd grown up somewhat musically isolated from the steady diet of Western pop, rock, and country music that virtually everyone else on this side of the pond takes for granted. His Czechoslovakian background and the political realities of the 1960s and 70s allowed him to develop a totally different musical, compositional, and technical approach to the mandolin. His uniquely eastern point of view was forged by mixing classical music, Czech folk music, European pop, 50s and 60s jazz, and stray bits of American bluegrass and acoustic music. He was not so bound by the limits that most of us automatically accepted. Why not fingerpick the mandolin? Why not write songs in unusual meters? Why not experiment with alternate tunings? Why not nylon strings? Why not modify the mandolin and it's acoustic properties? Sound is sound. Different sounds offer different colors. Why not use as many colors as possible? (By the way, I can't remember seeing Radim play the same instrument on two subsequent occasions. Always experimenting, he uses some variation on the mando-theme, a Frankenstein-esque conglomeration of various tuning gears, fingerboards, frets, pickups, and string gauges. But I digress...)
In listening to this new collection, I find myself wondering where he'll take his music next. I can imagine him with a loud, screaming grunge band. Perhaps he'll make a Christmas record, maybe a collection of Czech folk tunes, or maybe a CD of standards with a cool jazz rhythm section. I hope that his career grows and prospers but it's clear that he has already expanded the role of the mandolin and pushed the envelope of virtuosic technique out a little bit further. The evidence is right here. So, enjoy this new collection and stay tuned for more.