July 22, 2011
Szilárd Mezei Octet
SLAM CD 521
Szilárd Mezei Ensemble
NotTwo MW 818-2
Szilárd Mezei Szabad Quartet
Februári Fodári Fodöntés
Chronologically – at least in terms of released discs – musical polymath and violist Szilárd Mezei seems to be drawing closer to Jazz-influenced music. That’s doesn’t mean that his compositions are less reflective of the mixture of improvised, notated and folkloric sounds he has uniquely made his own over the past couple of decades, or are shifting one way or another. , It’s just that the saxophonist in the quartet session that makes up the most recent (2008) release by this Serbian-born member of that multi-ethnic country’s Hungarian minority not only plays unabashed Free Jazz, but has the space on Februári Fodári Fodöntés to do so.
A young Budapest-based graduate of the Liszt Ferenc Music Academy, tenor saxophonist Péter Bede has also recorded with veteran Hungarian trumpeter/violinist Ferenc Kovács, drummer Zsolt Sárvári Kovács and his own band. Plus on the Mezei LP’s three tracks Bede’s extended glossolalia and split tones put him firmly in the orbit of exploratory saxophonist like Albert Ayler. Meanwhile the violist, bassist Erno Hock and drummer Hunor G. Szabó use Bede’s stylistic musings as a unique construct that is added to the tradition-styled melody fragments and extended New music tropes that characterize Mezei’s compositions.
Mezei’s usual reed soloist – Bogdan Ranković, who moves effortlessly among alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet – is featured on Tönk and Bot, recorded in 2007 and 2004 respectively. But, as notable as his solos might be with melancholy, folkloric inflections, coupled with slurred extended techniques, in contrast to Bede his sonic models are from microtonal and New music. To his credit as a group member though, Ranković adds linear and harmonic weight to the two-man reed section on the earlier CDs, where the woodwind players share the front line with the violist and cellist and one trombonist on Tönk; or with Mezei, a different cellist plus trumpet, trombone and tuba on Bot’s two CDs.
Illustrations of Ranković’s talents, as well as Mezei’s compositional and arrangement skills are evident in contrasting versions of a few tunes. On Tönk, for instance, the octet’s version of “Bot” is staccato and discursive, with double-stopping string continuum, clicking drum flams, solipsistic piano comping and hunting horn-like brays from trombonist Bravislav Aksin. With the theme reoccurring throughout, usually sounded by the full band, each appearance is framed differently; whether it is by cheeping flute and staccato string interjections; guttural gutbucket trombone and percussive shuffle bowing from the strings; or pumped and pizzicato strings and drum rebounds. The most affecting intermezzo arises from the composer’s taut playing itself, with counterpoint provided by romantic string glisses and Gergely Ittzés’ bass-flute vibrations. At length, a stop-time ending completes the initial exposition with walking bass line and cymbal clanks.
In contrast Bot’s title tune is much more expansive, harmonized and orchestral – with the fuller sound spread among additional brass. Although Mezei’s arrangement is cleaner than the one he created for Tönk, timbres still match. Radmila Stanišić’s vibrating cello lines are paired with Aksin’s tailgate trombone and the guttural tuba farts of Kornél Pápista, for instance, while Emöke Zákány’s chirping oboe chatters contrapuntally. Midway through, a big-band- styled vamp gives way to biting trumpet blasts and woody bass clarinet echoes from Ranković before a tutti nocturne is exposed. Low pressure and moderato, the variant is stretched as far as possible until rippling tuba tones introduce another lucid orchestral part. It, in turn, is completed by double-stopping viola lines, followed by sequential call-and-response from trumpet and trombone, and irregularly vibrated brass snorts.
In the same way “Nõi box/Female Boxing” on Tönk is extended by slow crescendos from the top range of the octet’s instruments, circled by squeezed sul ponticello lines from the strings and mid-range, horn slurs and bites which intermittently protrude from the bouncy Balkan-styled melody. The Bot version elaborates the theme so that tremolo textures from one trumpeter and irregular vibratos from one clarinetist stand out as the other horns maintain a processional line. By the mid-point clipped drum figures and a walking bass line accompany a trumpeter whose sharply paced solo full of bent notes could slide unnoticed into any Bop arrangement. Later angled double stops from the cello and viola presage a circus-like drum roll which sets up the final theme variant. Unlike the composition’s final section on the other CD, this variant is rich with polyharmonies and polytones with the theme passed among bass string plucks, sputtering trombone blasts and a cacophonous tutti with unmistakable oboe cries high in the mix.
Although Tönk too has some overwrought sections which seem more attuned to 19th century orchestrations, in the main the disc is more of an improvisational showcase than Bot. This is made clearest when comparing “Ûlõ bika/Sitting Bull”, from the first CD with “Napszekér/Chariot of Sun” from the two-CD-set recorded three years earlier. Arranged in more formalized sequences, the result is nearly a scherzo and could be a film soundtrack. The portamento layering of the instruments include the trumpets playing Dixieland-like triplets, discursive reed bites and the spiccato cello sprawl. But even as the time is broken up with ratchet-like friction and slide whistle shrills, the neatly stacked harmonies maintain equilibrium. Finally Balkan-like clarinet trills presage a final sequence that releases the tension engendered by the massed mid-range instruments and is completed by pressurized string motions and brassy pumps.
In contrast, the other version of the tune is as unfettered as its American Indian namesake. While the octet arrangement on this 2007 session calls for unison orchestral passages, that are meditative and low-pitched, the focus is on individual accomplishment. Ittzés’ flute chirps, Ervin Malina slaps his bass strings and Ranković slurs tenor saxophone tones. Mezei himself triple stops his viola’s strings like a combination of Stuff Smith and Billy Bang, preceding Aksin’s guttural trombone break and leading to a penultimate aletrotic and abrasive hoe down between fiddle and drums plus splintered sax tones and piano chording. Echoing pops from all the strings constitute the ending
Coincidentally or not “Ûlõ bika/Sitting Bull” presages the emphasis on Jazz improv with the otherwise all-Hungarian quartet recorded the next year. The arrangements maintain a full sound by close voicing of the saxophone and viola, Hock thumping bass strings and Szabó whapping the bass drum and rattling drum tops. Mezei’s downward string curves and splintering stops are complemented by the rhythm section, while Bede’s reed bites rend the air. Eventually as the tenor man’s geysers of split tones and guttural spews abate, as in a conventional Jazz line, the fiddler makes reference to the initial theme, which is reprised in a smoother fashion.
If these CDs are accurate guides, the Hungarian-Serbia composer continues to excel at combing elements of compositions and improvisations, with the same high standards applied to whichever sounds he feels like emphasizing. Considering Mezei’s most recent session is almost three years old, one wonders what advances he’s involved with right now
Track Listing: Tönk: 1. Ûlõ bika/Sitting Bull 2. Nõi box/Female Boxing 3. Hep 5 4. Tõnk - Hó/Stump - Snow 5. Bot
Personnel: Tönk: Bravislav Aksin (trombone); Gergely Ittzés (flute, alto flute, piccolo and bass flute); Bogdan Ranković (alto and tenor saxophones and bass clarinet); Szilárd Mezei (viola); Milan Aleksić (piano); Albert Márkos (cello); Ervin Malina (bass) and István Csík (percussion)
Track Listing: Bot: CD 1: 1. Bot/Stick (2002)+2. Föld - levegö/ Earth and Air (1998)+3. Tamara- ki?/Tamara Who?+(2002) 4. Yerma (2001)+5. Tibeti gyors/Tibetan Allegro (2000)* 6. Lépésben/In Step (2000)* CD2: 1. Női box/ Female Boxing (2004)+2. Csip csip (2003)* 3. Huzatos huzat/Breezy Draught (2004) 4. Napszekér/Chariot of Sun (2004)* 5. Medium (2002)+
Personnel: Bot: Damir Bačikin and Slobodan Dragaš* or Lordan Skenderović+ (trumpet); Bravislav Aksin (trombone); Kornél Pápista (tuba); Bogdan Ranković (alto saxophone clarinet and bass clarinet); Emöke Zákány (oboe); Szilárd Mezei (viola); Radmila Stanišić (cello); Ervin Malina (bass) and István Csík (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: Februári: Side A: 1. Akkorra/By Then Side B 1. Pakak/Sedges 2. Februari Fadöntés/Felling in February
Personnel: Februári: Péter Bede (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Szilárd Mezei (viola); Erno Hock (bass) and Hunor G.Szabó (drums)