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coverpic flag Czech Republic - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 5 - 03/24/97

Helena Vondrackova
Paprsky (Sunbeams)

At about the same time in what was then Czechoslovakia, two female teenage pop singers became very popular - the blond and bubbly Helena Vondrackova and the dark and pouty Marta Kubisova. Because of her anti-communist activism, hard living and the changes in the musical taste of her audience, Marta's career was unfortunately cut short. Helena managed more or less successfully to avoid controversy through the 70's, but the next decade found her searching for new directions.

Supraphon's re-release of Paprsky shows an interesting attempt to launch a new musical style for Vondrackova's light, airy and sunny pop singing style by combining it with the jazz-rock funkiness of keyboardist, arranger and composer Martin Kratochvil. Fresh from his studies at Berklee College of Music, Kratochvil has just uncovered a new direction for himself. He was boiling over with musical ideas, spouting one Chick Corea/Steve Wonder-like groove after another. He'd written nine cuts for this album, he was the band leader and he has arranged every song.

The lead-in title track turns out promisingly to be a little jazz number with Helena's excellent vocal performance alternating with an intricate arrangement for a small choir. It leads directly into a more conventional ballad Hledac ztraceneho casu (The Seeker Of Lost Time), but after the funky Kruhy na vode (Rings On The Water) and the less convincing Klusem (Trotting), Helena's voice runs into trouble on Valerie. She simply doesn't have the range or the depth to do justice to that song.

The next two tunes are straight pop efforts penned by Helena's younger brother, and then two more jazz/funk tunes by Kratochvil. While Vondrackova performs these songs correctly, her interpretation remain unconvincing. However following a rather weak vocal opening, Ta treti jsem ja (The Third One Is Me), settles into a tropical minor groove featuring percussions and Helena's quite passable scat singing. Straight-ahead pop tunes (the second one Vsechno bych vzala zpet (I'd Take Back Everything), finds Vondrackova in a welcomed low and dark register), lead into the dreamy Kam zmizel muj maly namornik (When Did My Little Sailor Go), which closes the album.

Paprsky proved to be a turning point for both artists. Soon after its original release date, Kratochvil has embraced a more acoustic new age jazz idiom in a duo or a trio setting. Vondrackova's career however never really took off and since then, she has quietly entered semi-retirement.

So go ahead, czech it out!

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