Led by the formidable guitarist Radim Hladík, Modrý Efekt were one of the major progressive bands in Czechoslovakia. The band's first couple of albums, made under the name Blue Effect
, are said to be a mixture of psychedelia, R&B, beat and jazz. They later translated their name into Czech to keep the authorities happy. The beginning of their actual progressive period is usually traced to 1975's Modrý Efekt
& Radim Hladík, a mixture of symphonic rock and fusion with emphasis on Hladík's extended soloing. It is also with this album that he was elevated to his status as a minor deity in the celestial order of the six-string.
My first-hand experience of the band begins with their 1977 album Svitanie (CD Opus 91 2629-2 311), where Hladík and drummer Vlado Cech were joined by bassist Fedor Freso (ex-Collegium Musicum
) and keyboardist Oldrich Veselý (ex-Synkopy 61
) and the band's name had been shortened to simple M Efekt
. The music here is Yes-influenced symphonic rock, but with lots of idiosyncrasies and cultural influences that make it quite unique. The brisk opener "Vysoká Stolicka, Dlhý Popol" has a definite 1971 Yes feel in its bright but sinewy bass lines and bold melodies carried by organ, electric piano, synthesizer and guitar, but the three or four strong themes that the band juggle and throw against each other with slippery ease are their own, not just chunks of unassimilated influences regurgitated. Hladík's guitar playing, sort of a Jan Akkerman
-like cocktail of blues, fusion pyrotechnics and hints of Baroque lyricism played with Steve Howe's trebly tone and sense of orchestration, sets the pace for the song, whether stating the melody with broad sweeps of ringing notes or blurting out drilling bursts of fast runs and solo fills that swing the mood of the tune.
"Ej, Padá, Padá Rosenka" is a rock arrangement of a Moravian folk song and provides the album's most memorable melody - first solemnly sung by Veselý, then transformed into Hladík's rippingly emotive guitar solo against Veselý's brooding keyboards. The slick "V Sobotu Popoludní" is the album's most obviously jazzy track, but though Freso's locomotive bass groove seems to beckon for a fusion jam, the band keep shifting neatly between Hladík's solos and Veselý's slightly Tony Banks
-influenced synthesizer fanfares.
influence is most blatant on the spacey opening and closing sections of the 19-minute title track, as the volume-pedal-swell guitar lines, Veselý's high-pitched vocal harmonies and distinctly Andersonian melodic slices make one wonder whether this is an outtake from an aborted Czech-language Yes album. However, the song's lengthy middle section is essentially just an extended guitar solo in a bluesy fusion mould, a bit like a bloated mutant strain of something out of Finch's first album. Though Hladík shows great taste and style in varying his solo between acoustic picking and more whipping electric surges and the accompaniment strives to match his dynamics, this is not really what I consider a progressive epic. Hence the side two of Svitanie does not quite live up to the promise made by the excellent first side. The CD bonus track "Golem" runs aground on the grey face of conventional guitar rock but is partly salvaged by its introspective sections with those harmony vocals again. Despite these reservations, Svitanie is still a very good album and may well be Modrý Efekt
's peak performance.
Freso left soon after to re-join Collegium Musicum
and later Fermata
. Interestingly, he was not replaced by another bassist, but by Modrý Efekt
's original keyboard player Lesek Semelka. Hence Svet Hledacu (CD Bonton BON 494002 2) is a whole different beastie than Svitanie, a more technical and metallic work, with the bass lines played with synthesizers or Clavinets. The fluctuation between spacey synthesizers on the one hand and Hladík's biting guitars on the other brings to mind the likes of Eloy
, but Modrý Efekt
tend to lay more emphasis on complexity and sudden rhythmic shifts and less on all-encompassing synthesizer backdrops than these bands. Further in contrast to the primarily instrumental Svitanie, Semelka and Veselý's distinctive and surprisingly homophonic vocals are present on each of the five tracks, which can irritate those who don't appreciate their nasal qualities. Veselý's "Hledám Své Vlastní" is the shortest and spaciest of the lot, darkly dreamy and mysterious with billowing keyboard layers, while Hladík's "Rajky" is scalding and heavy on jerky guitar riffs, a metal-spiked monster with a funky gait. The other three are more complex mini-epics, each contrasting arching, minor-heavy melodies and angular or spacey instrumental stretches with great skill and style. In some ways this album stands better up as a whole than Svitanie, though if Yes or Finch fans were the obvious target group for that album, Svet Hledacu would probably be taken in most eagerly by those who like 1970's Eloy but wish the band could be more versatile and lighter on pathos.
The CD has six bonus tracks gathered from singles recorded after Veselý had left the band to reform Synkopy. While similar in sound, these are much shorter and simpler numbers, essentially vocal-heavy pop that, apart from a few engaging moments, lacks the hooks or innovation to raise it above faceless MOR fodder.
The remaining trio did regain their progressive trajectory on what would be Modrý Efekt
's final album, 33 (CD Bonton BON 499746 2). Here the synthesizers are much thicker on the ground than before, as Semelka had acquired a polyphonic synth and Hladík an ARP Avatar guitar-synthesizer (which he employs very frugally), allowing them to get a bigger sound with less people on board. The writing on the four longish tracks follows the previous album, but with more immediate accessibility and, unfortunately, less innovation and depth. That is not to say that this isn't enjoyable music, for Hladík and Semelka cook up a veritable vortex of guitar and synthesizer duelling over the bedrock of Cech's loose but propelling drumming, stacking up harmonic complexity and high-tech gloss over the basic bluesy rock foundation. The profiles of vocal melodies are also majestic, if somewhat limited and repetitive.
Once again, the CD features a number of inferior bonus tracks, including a matter-of-fact live rendition of the album track "Avignonské Slecny Z Prahy" and six more studio tracks from singles that Hladík recorded with different line-ups between 1983 and 1989. The best of these is the haunted art-pop piece "Nezná", the very worst the tuneless screecher "Doktor" which commits almost every sonic sin that mid-1980's pop-rock had dreamed up. Surprisingly, its b-side was "Cajovna", a shimmering instrumental that manages to be quite nice despite being hampered by the same production values. After this, Hladík seems to have disappeared from active progressive duty and Modrý Efekt
with him. -- Kai Karmanheimo