Mihály Borbély Quartet

Hommage à Kodály
Budapest Music Center Records BMC CD 155

Perhaps only Hungarians can capture the nuances implicit in the compositions of their countryman Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967). At least Budapest-based multi-reedist Mihály Borbély demonstrates that on this CD where he integrates Kodály’s themes with his own jazz compositions. Borbély, who also plays in the Magyar folk tradition that influenced Kodály, doesn’t imitate the composer. Instead the quintet which plays his themes extends the folkloric style while staying within the parameters of improvised music.

For instance, Balázs Kántor’s reading of Kodály’s “Sonata for Solo Cello” with double-stopping plucks and Roma romanticism foreshadows the contrapuntal Borbély composition which follows it. “Tilinkós, Kodály’s own”, features the reedman’s buoyant and lyrical soloing on tilinkós or shepherd’s pipe mixed with tremolo slides from Kántor, tough drum beats from Istávan Baló, high-frequency modal runs from pianist Dániel Szabó, and conclusive Orientalized trills from Borbély’s saxophone – which recall that the Turks ruled Hungary for centuries.

Similarly, the dramatic equal temperament Szabó brings to his playing on Kodály’s “Sonatina” is as kinetic as the cascading note choruses he displays on the saxophonist’s “The Shepherd of Hope”. Although Baláczs Horvath’s walking bass line plus the supple tongue-fluttering and aviary chirps from Borbély’s soprano saxophone may have disconcerted Kodály, he would have appreciated the lullaby-like finale here that reflects his own work.

With the band sounding like a swinging jazz combo at times – albeit one where Borbély’s strident extensions are sometimes also expressed on tárogato – and a sympathetic chamber ensemble elsewhere, this homage to Kodály impresses with originality as well as empathy.

—Ken Waxman

— For Whole Note Vol. 14 #9