Rudy Linka/George Mraz

Just Between Us
(Independent Release)

This all-acoustic session of duets recorded a quarter-century ago by a pair of Czech-born jazz musicians — guitarist Rudy Linka and bassist George Mraz (1944–2021) — has emerged from the archives to reveal its timeless, delicate beauty. These 10 crisply captured tracks, recorded by engineer James Ferber in 1998 in New York and initially released as a limited pressing in Poland, have been revived by Linka and are now available worldwide on vinyl and (coming soon) as a digital download. The rapport between these two expatriate artists, both of whom established their careers working in New York clubs and studios after attending Boston’s Berklee College of Music (first Mraz in the late 1960s, followed by the younger Linka in the mid-’80s), is instantly apparent. As on previous small-group recordings made with Linka for the Enja label, including 1995’s Czech It Out! and 1996’s Always Double Czech!, Mraz imparts his hard-swinging bass lines, refined melodic sense and deep mastery of the bebop lexicon on seven Linka originals and three standards. Linka engages the former bassist for Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and countless other heavies with the openheartedness of an artist in his true element, in an intimate musical conversation with his fellow countryman that touches on everything from intense post-bop improvisation to intriguing harmonic progressions to subtle conjurings of ancient slavic folk music. Highlights include a reading of Miles Davis’ “Nardis” that sparkles under Linka’s tender touch and draws strength from the guitarist’s ability to spin out gorgeous melodic lines while simultaneously comping the corresponding chord changes; the subtle syncopation of the medium-up Linka-penned swinger “Would You?”; a free-spirited waltz written for Linka’s daughter Steff and a more intriguing piece dedicated to his wife, Solveig; the Sam Rivers composition “Beatrice,” which elicits some especially lively duo interaction; and a reflective Linka piece titled “Page Before,” which finds these two kindred spirits in tacit agreement on where the song’s simple syncopated figures land and how the harmonies ultimately resolve. The centerpiece of this delectable program is their take on the standard “Too Young To Go Steady,” which proves to be an ample showcase for both players to bring their instrumental prowess to the forefront as they draw from wells of deep-seated emotion and toy with flights of pure whimsy, Czech style. Linka has a way of ending many of the pieces here with ambiguous-sounding chords strummed with a flamenco-like flow that makes it seem as if he’s stroking some celestial harp. Indeed, in this completely unplugged environment, with the warmth of vinyl further revealing the human element at the heart of these recordings, nearly everything about Just Between Us feels just right.

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