Szilárd Mezei Wind Quartet

We Were Watching the Rain
Leo Records CD LR 530

Szilárd Mezei Trio

Bármikor, most/Anytime, now

Not Two MW 794-2

Right now composer and violist Szilárd Mezei is probably Serbia’s most prominent improviser, fronting ensembles ranging from duos to tentets. The irony of these circumstances is that Mezei is a member of the Hungarian minority in the country’s multi-ethnic Vojvodina region. Considering that the violist, who studied composition formally and has collaborated with choreographers, creates sounds which draw on so-called classical, martial, Jazz, folkloric and intuitive sources, limiting him to any ethnicity is as counterproductive as trying to pigeonhole his compositions,

Mezei, who has played with improvisers ranging from American saxophonist Charles Gayle and drummer Hamid Drake to Hungarian pianist György Szabados and French bassist Joëlle Léandre, has equal affinity for strings and horns, as these contrasting CDs demonstrate. Recorded two years apart, both the quartet and trio are made up of improvisers who work together in Mezei’s larger groups.

Anytime, now demonstrates in nine parts what profound liberties can be taken with a standard Jazz trio sound if the viola is the front-line instrument. On the disc Mezei’s creations are perfectly complemented by unassumingly inventive bassist Ervin Malina and the understated and sympathetic percussionist István Csík. Eschewing a rhythm section, the seven tracks on We Were Watching the Rain instead surrounds the leader’s viola with a brass choir consisting of three other musically congenial players: alto saxophonist and bass clarinetist Bogdan Rankovic, trombonist Branislav Aksin and tubaist Kornél Pápista.

As the second string player on the first CD, Malina moves seamlessly from one expected role to another. Sometimes he harmonizes in broken octaves or in lockstep with Mezei for more lyrical sounds; other times he provides a bass intro of profound subterranean textures; or else he walks, slaps or thumps his strings to escalate the tunes’ rhythmic foundations. His playing may often be in unison with the fiddler’s, but nevertheless a frequently invoked strategy involves presto pumping plucks from the bassist as the violist garnishes the musical feast with elongated and slithering sawing.

Mezei’s pizzicato style can involve mandolin-like picking; while Csík’s string set can vibrate with the staccato textures of deliberated stops and pumps. Meanwhile the drummer’s playing is as sympathetically legato as the others’. His percussive drags, pops and rebound, as well as his cymbal smacks may be contained within standard drum breaks, but they never demolish the compositional edifice constructed nor call undue attention to themselves.

“Hep 3” is one of the most memorable interactions here. Completed by a section where all three trade fours as if they’re playing a Bop head, the exposition depends on bull fiddle and viola stating the moderato theme steps apart, followed by a variant where the fiddler and bassist pass thematic variants between them with similar plinking rubato note clusters. Csík’s shuffles and paradiddles keep the backing bouncy as do his cymbal clusters. Meanwhile Mezei’s most spectacular demonstration of scratching double and stopping suggests the ugly-beauty of a viola excursion by American fiddler Leroy Jenkins.

Instructively, “Hep 8” and “Hep 6”, that both appear on We Were, relate more to the European atonal tradition than any composition performed in a strictly North American context. The first balances on Pápista’s textural pedal-point slurs and Aksin’s braying gutbucket blasts, as Mezei’s agitato and spiccato lines are propelled unchecked and Rankovic’s contralto glissandi are narrowed to diaphragm-induced squeaks and accelerating sharp trills. Eventually as brass burps, which could have escaped from a nearby beer garden, harmonize with Rankovic’s work, the tune concludes with sweet clarinet lyricism.

Meanwhile “Hep 6” polyphonically parcels the theme out among all four players, with the resulting tutti soon dissolving into pizzicato plucks, capillary trills and some whinnies and growls from Rankovic. After Rankovic’s subsequent reed bites and tongue stops are complemented by Pápista’s muted echo, a coda of hocketing, chordal lines ties the loose sonic ends into a neat package.

While other compositions are as alternatively melancholy and mellow or brassy and bubbly as you would imagine this often contrapuntal line-up would create, Mezei’s sophisticated arrangements also express his romantic side with a composition bilingually entitled, “Szerettelek, nem tagadom/I loved you, I don’t deny it”.

Here the contrapuntal dissonance between splintering fiddle jumps and pumping brass blasts is finally resolved by mewling chirps from Rankovic’s alto saxophone. This reed exposition turns into a duet involving a tuba ostinato and is succeeded by Aksin’s pumping grace notes and the fiddler’s presto string licks. Before the initial theme is definitively recapped and completed, Pápista has taken an octave-leaping solo; Rankovic has exposed split tones that range from shrill mouse squeaks to moderato dog yelps; and Mezei decorates the others’ output with squeezed chromatic runs

Evidentially neither the size of the ensemble nor the year of issue deters Mezei from creating high-calibre CDs. What’s needed now is more North American exposure for his many bands and compositions

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Anytime 1. Induló/March 2. [symbol] (dedicated to Tibor Várszegi) 3. Lynx 4. Most nem/Now no 5. Hep 3 6. Háromfa/Three Trees 7. Te beszélsz én elalszok 8. Bámikor, most/Anytime now 9. [elongated symbol]

Personnel: Anytime: Szilárd Mezei (viola); Ervin Malina (bass) and István Csík (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: We: 1. Miloš 2. Vasrózsa/Iron rose 3. Hep 8 4. Szerettelek, nem tagadom/I loved you, I don’t deny it 5. Néztük az esot/We Were Watching the Rain 6. Hep 6 7. Miloš Live

Personnel: We: Branislav Aksin (trombone); Kornél Pápista (tuba); Bogdan Rankovic (alto saxophone and bass clarinet) and Szilárd Mezei (viola)