The adventurous, highly risk-taking Jablkon has turned out to be one of the more long-lasting bands on the Czech music scene. Formed in what is now the Czech Republic back in the late '70s, Jablkon was around during the Cold War — lead singer Michal Nemec is old enough to remember a time when Eastern Europe was dominated by Soviet-style communist regimes, and the group is still going strong long after the fall of communism and the demise of the Eastern Bloc. Jablkon's music is not easy to categorize; perhaps their work is best described as an experimental, far-reaching mixture of avant-garde rock, progressive rock, European classical, jazz and Eastern European folk. Their lyrics are in Czech, but musically, Jablkon has a lot of non-Czech influences. Because Jablkon is so original, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly who their influences are; suffice it to say that Nemec sounds like he has listened to everyone from Béla Bartók and Sergei Rachmaninov, to jazz greats Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman to ambitious rockers such as King Crimson, Frank Zappa and Pink Floyd. Nemec obviously appreciates rock's more complex side, but at times, his group has shown an awareness of punk's gritty, in-your-face toughness. And for all its eccentricity and abstraction, the band is quite musical — Nemec and his colleagues aren't known for simplistic, easy-to-absorb music, but they are melodic nonetheless.
Jablkon was officially formed as a trio in Prague in 1977, when Nemec joined forces with two people he had met at a Czech conservatory: acoustic guitarist Ingo Bellmann and drummer Ivan Podobsky. Nemec was working as a postman at the time, although he had studied composition and conducting at the conservatory; Bellmann, meanwhile, had studied to be a mathematician but was seriously interested in guitar playing. And Podobsky had studied acting. One of Jablkon's first live performances was at Prague Jazz Days, a Czech jazz festival. But even though Jablkon was jazz-influenced, they were never pigeonholed as a jazz group — and they also acquired a small cult following in rock, classical and folk circles. For 12 years, Jablkon was a trio, but the group became a quartet when a second guitarist, Martin Carvan, was added to the lineup in 1989. It was also in the late '80s — not long before communist Czechoslovakia became the capitalist Czech Republic — that Jablkon started building a catalog. The Ninth Wave, their first album, was released on Panton Records in 1988. Jablkon went on to record at least six albums for various Czech labels in the '90s, including Jablkon & Sveceny (1991) and Baba Aga (1993) for B&N, Symphonic Jablkon (1995) for Fi, and Machalaj (1995) and Pisnicky (1997) for Baba N. Records — and the early 2000s found them recording for the Indies label. Along the way, Jablkon has had a few lineup changes. In 2004 — which marked Jablkon's 27th anniversary — the group's lineup consisted of Nemec (lead vocals, guitar), Carvan (acoustic guitar), Petr Chiouba (drums, percussion, accordion, vibes) and Johnny Judl (electric bass, electric guitar, bassoon). ~ Alex Henderson